Spring arrives Tuesday after “a really wet winter;” mountain snowpack high

A cyclist rides through the rain on Sunday afternoon in downtown Missoula. The precipitation fell as snow earlier in the day. More rain and snow is expected later this week, though spring officially begins on Tuesday. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The arrival of spring at 10:15 a.m. Mountain Time on Tuesday will close the books on what meteorologists are calling a “really wet” winter in western Montana, with snowpack well above average and temperatures generally normal.

Barring a drying trend in June, the fire-charred forests of western Montana could escape a repeat of last summer.

“For the next 30 days, at least, we’ll see above-average precipitation and below-normal temperatures,” said Bruce Bauck, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Missoula. “It’ll be a continuation of what we’ve been seeing, and it’ll continue to build mountain snowpack and we’ll continue to see these very moist conditions in the valleys.”

As of Monday morning, the mountains around western Montana were deep in snow. The Bitterroots were listed at 137 percent of normal, Bauck said, while the Upper Clark Fork basin from Butte to Georgetown Lake was 178 percent of normal.

“We’ve seen 51.6 inches of snowfall this winter in Missoula,” said Bauck. “The normal for Missoula through today’s date is about 32 inches. We’re doing really well.”

Last winter, Missoula recorded 63.5 inches of snow – the most since 1996. That was followed by a long and smoke-filled fire season.

“We had a lot of snow in the mountains last year, but we dried out in June and July,” Bauck said. “It pulled all the moisture out of the environment. June ends up being a wet month, and last year we didn’t end up having hardly any precipitation.”

Since the start of the water season, which begins on Oct. 1, Missoula has recorded 6.97 inches of precipitation, well above the normal 5.03 inches. Since Jan. 1, Bauck said, the city has recorded 3.05 inches, or .95 more than normal.

“This winter has been really wet, but last winter was extreme,” Bauck said, noting the 9.55 inches of precipitation from Oct. 1 to the first day of spring.

The spring equinox takes place Tuesday, marking the point at which the sun crosses the equator on its northern trek.

In Missoula, the day will be marked by fairly even amounts of daylight and darkness, with the sun rising due east and setting directly to the west.