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Governor declares winter storm emergency in Montana

More than three feet of snow has fallen in some areas
September Snow in East Glacier and Heart Butte
Posted at 12:20 PM, Sep 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-29 19:20:22-04

GREAT FALLS — Governor Steve Bullock declared an emergency in Montana on Sunday, citing the state's "severe early season storm."

The Governor's Office said in a press release the hardest-hit areas are Cascade, Flathead, Glacier, Lake, Lewis & Clark, Lincoln, Pondera, and Teton counties and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Glacier County, and Pondera County have issued local emergency declarations.

“With an unprecedented winter storm throwing our state a surprise in September, state and local governments are working closely together to protect the health and safety of Montanans and our top priority is making sure that happens,” Governor Bullock said in the release. “Montanans should heed all warnings from state and local officials, travel safely, and be cautious during this time.”

More than three feet of snow has fallen since Friday night in some areas, particularly along the Rocky Mountain Front and in several communities to the east, including Browning, East Glacier, and Heart Butte. More than a foot of snow has fallen in many other towns, including Choteau and Great Falls.

The National Weather Service in Great Falls said that Saturday's 9.7" snowfall in Great Falls set a daily and one-day September record. Since midnight, Great Falls has received another 4.3 inches, bringing the Great Falls storm total to 14 inches. The snow depth is about 7 inches due to settling and surface melting.

At 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Pondera County Disaster & Emergency Services and the Blackfeet Nation Emergency Operations Center said that roads are extremely dangerous and requested limited travel to emergency vehicles only until further notice.

Public Information Officer James McNeely said that Browning Public Schools, Blackfeet Community College, and Blackfeet Tribal offices will be closed on Monday.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council announced on Sunday afternoon that Blackfeet Community Hospital will be closed on Monday with the exception of the Emergency Room & Ward which shall remain open. Also, the Heart Butte Clinic will be closed on Monday.

Just after noon on Sunday, the National Weather Service in Great Falls said "blizzard conditions are happening in parts of Northern and Southern Rocky Mountain front. Cut Bank Airport observations are currently reporting moderate to heavy snowfall with 1/4 to 1/2 mile visibility, and sustained northerly winds around 30 mph. Drifting and blowing snow conditions are causing dangerous travel conditions, with Pondera County and the Blackfeet Nation restricting travel to emergency vehicles only until further notice."

The press release from Governor Bullock also states:

The storm brought heavy, wet snow with accumulation amounts up to three feet in some locations. High winds have downed trees and power lines resulting in road closures, emergency travel conditions, intermittent cellular service and power outages.Unseasonably cold temperatures will delay snowmelt in some areas and bring the end of the growing season for some agricultural producers. The storm also has the potential to cause flooding in Montana.

“We were fortunate to receive several days of notice from the National Weather Service – which did a good job predicting the size and magnitude of this storm,” said Governor Bullock.

State agencies were able to preposition equipment and prioritize road clearing in cooperation with local jurisdictions. Given the proximity to Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Nation has a shelter on standby for stranded motorists.

The Montana State Emergency Coordination Center is working with all counties in the storm path to identify needs to critical lifeline services such as energy, communications, transportation, and emergency food, water, and shelter services. The State Emergency Coordination Center continues to receive declarations of emergencies from local and tribal jurisdictions. The emergency order allows the utilization of all necessary state government services, equipment and suppliers to further the efforts of local governments in protecting the health and safety of Montanans. With the order, state resources can be mobilized to impacted counties with eligible expenses for emergency protective measures and debris removal.