“We went from winter into about a week of summer, then into fall and now we’re into winter again,” Jim McNeely said of the record setting snowstorm over the weekend. Having been named Public Information Officer for the event, McNeely has been on the scene since things started.
“We’ve been preparing because we were warned by the National Weather Service, so we’ve been putting the notice out there, and it seemed like people were prepared this time,” McNeely continued. “People were stocked up, and then on Friday we waited and nothing came. But when it came, it really came. We made the national news based on our getting 42 inches of snow.”
In the depth of the storm, plows were useless. “Saturday wasn’t as bad as Sunday. The plows were pulled because they weren’t really doing any good,” he said.
Acting Blackfeet Chairman Iliff “Scott” Kipp declared a state of emergency on Saturday afternoon, allowing the Tribe to put a plan of action in place. Robert DesRosier, head of the Tribe’s Department of Homeland Security, was named Incident Commander. He was joined by a representative from the Montana DES, the Blackfeet Fire Cache, Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife and other entities to deal with rescues and medical issues.
On Sunday, Sept. 29, Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency which allowed the Tribe to mobilize with the Montana Department of Highways and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in keeping folks off the streets for safety.
“It worked pretty well,” McNeely said. “We stayed on Facebook, KSEN and KRTV to provide information, and we made the decision to close entities for safety because today we’re focused on cleanup so people should stay off the streets because they could still get stuck.”
While some folks had issues that required an official response, for the most part people seemed to have prepared for this emergency. “Fish and Wildlife was part of our team,” McNeely said. “There were a couple medical incidents where we had to get to people with snowmobiles, and there were a couple calls for firewood, but otherwise it was pretty quiet. We followed the sports teams to make sure they would be safe.”
Coach Steve LaForge said his cross country team’s journey from Missoula took them on the east shore of Flathead Lake where the storm created dangerous conditions. “We were dodging trees left and right,” he said. “There was lots of damage - houses and power lines down. We got back just in time before it got really bad, but we were prepared to stay another night if we had to.”
Browning football coach Ansel Traynor’s team also made it back from Columbia Falls before the storm hit, and on Monday they were out helping people. “The football team is out shoveling people out,” he said. “We want to help our community any way we can.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supplied these data points on Monday, detailing local snow accumulations.
“Following is a summary of storm total snowfall reports from around southwest and north central Montana and a few other locations. The highest amount reported was 52 inches at Babb, with four feet at Browning and 46 inches at Badger Pass, and from a spotter 17 miles west-southwest of Bynum. Great Falls set a one-day (24-hr) snowfall record of 17.7 inches. This fell between 11 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday. The previous 24-hour record was 16.8 inches on April 20, 1973. The total of 19.3-inches at Great Falls was their second highest two-day total. The record is 24.2-inches set April 28-29, 2009.
“While these locations may not have this amount on the ground, this is an accumulation of measurements. There has been settling, compaction and some melting of the snow on the ground, so most areas did have the totals on the ground that are reported below.
“Data is from SNOTEL sites, spotters, social media, CoCoRahs, NWS Cooperative Weather Stations, and Local Storm Reports.”
Babb 52.0 in.
Browning 48.0 in.
SN-Badger Pass 25WSW 46.0 in.
St. Mary 45.0 in.
East Glacier 36.0 in. (estimated)
SN-Pike Creek SNOTEL 8.0 in.
Cut Bank 14.0 in. (estimated)
“We’re going to wrap things up Monday evening around 5 p.m.,” McNeely said, “so we’ll have a ‘normal working day tomorrow.’”