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Record-setting September snow in Montana

Emergency declaration and school closures
Posted: 10:31 PM, Sep 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-30 08:05:04-04
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GREAT FALLS — The record-setting snow storm that hit north-central Montana over the weekend prompted Governor Steve Bullock to declare an emergency on Sunday, and the announcement of several school closures for Monday:

  • Conrad
  • Browning
  • Blackfeet Community College
  • Cut Bank
  • Shelby
  • Dutton
  • Choteau
  • Fairfield
  • Valier

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. More snowfall on Sunday brought the storm total in Great Falls to 19.3 inches. The snow depth is about 9 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.

The American Red Cross of Montana has opened a shelter at the Blackfeet United Methodist Parish, 237 1st Avenue NW, in Browning.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.

In the emergency declaration, Bullock cited 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.

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Here is the full text of Bullock's emergency declaration:

Governor Steve Bullock today issued an executive order declaring an emergency in Montana due to a severe early season storm. Areas hardest hit include Cascade, Flathead, Glacier, Lake, Lewis and 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. “Montanans should heed all warnings from state and local officials, travel safely, and be cautious during this time.”

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.