Warm weather, spring fever fleeting in Missoula

Surfers took to Brennan’s Wave on the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula on Sunday as temperatures hit 46 degrees and river flows increased. Winter weather is expected to return this week. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula held shades of spring over the weekend as temperatures topped 46 degrees, sending surfers down to Brennan’s Wave to test the season’s early runoff.

But as expected, winter returned by Monday, closing the door on hopes of an early spring.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the next few days hold,” said Lance VandenBoogart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula. “We’ve switched back to a winter weather pattern, and that should stop a lot of the melt.”

While Missoula nudged its way into the upper 40s on Sunday, Hamilton hit 52 degrees and Deer Lodge topped out at 51. The short run of warmer weather saw river flows increase, with the Clark Fork above Missoula jumping a half-foot to to 3.49 feet.

The Bitterroot River near Missoula also rose to 4.42 feet. But both are expected to peak on Wednesday as cold weather returns and slows the snowmelt.

“Flows aren’t anything out of the ordinary,” said VanderBoogart. “It’s gone up a little with the warm afternoons. But it’s when we start getting the overnight 40s that we start seeing the increased flows, and we’re switching back into a winter weather pattern.”

VanderBoogart said the winter snowpack is holding strong. The snow-water equivalent in the Bitterroot range and the mountains around Missoula stands at 96 percent of normal. Much of western Montana also sits at 90 to 100 percent of normal.

“We were low until we got the big storm a week or two ago,” he said. “This is good news that we’re sitting so close to normal this far into the winter. But there is a turning point. We’ll have another month of accumulation and start the downward trend.”

Much of the Idaho Panhandle was placed under a flood watch on Monday while parts of southwest Montana was under a winter weather advisory. For Missoula, rain and snow is in the forecast for much of the week, with overnight temperatures falling to 12 degrees on Thursday.

“It looks like the one to two week forecast shows a strong signal of cooler than normal,” said VanderBoogart. “The one month outlook isn’t as strong of a signal. It has an equal chance of being above or below normal.”