March closes the same way it opened — with snow

2014-03-31T19:00:00Z 2014-04-01T00:10:36Z March closes the same way it opened — with snowBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

With the 100-inches-of-snow-in-a-single-season milestone met for the first time in Billings’ recorded history as of Monday, it can just stop snowing for a while now, right?

Probably not.

“We’re not done with the snow season yet,” said Joe Lester, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Billings office.

The snowiest season Billings has ever seen — it took that honor on March 24 after topping the old record of 98.7 inches, set in 1996-1997 — will continue for a bit longer after a March that saw just a touch above-average snow, but enough of it to set an all-time record.

By 6 a.m. Monday, the NWS recorded 1.4 inches of new snow at Billings Logan International Airport, meaning Billings officially topped the 100-inch mark for the first time since record-keeping began in 1934.

The snow that fell over the last day and a half in March also ensured that the month reached its average snowfall of about 10 inches. As of 10 a.m., a little less than 11 inches of snow had fallen in Billings for the month.

“Until this last day or so, it was actually a drier-than-average month,” Lester said.

March opened on an unusually wintry note and right in the middle of a frigid cold snap that dropped 1.3 inches of snow on the first. When the next day saw a low temperature of 21 degrees below zero, it was the first March temperature of

minus 20 or colder ever recorded

in Billings.

After a low of minus 4 on March 3, the temperature never got colder than 15 degrees, with a monthly high of 64 on the ninth, and the mean temperature ended up about four degrees cooler than the average of 37.7 degrees.

In mid-March, warmer weather and some melting snow contributed to swollen rivers across the region, which flooded — including around the Yellowstone River and Roundup areas — after ice jams clogged up waterways.

The surrounding area saw similar weather throughout the month. Miles City’s mean temperature as of Monday was 31.1 degrees, 3.4 cooler than normal, while it recorded 1.3 inches of precipitation, three-quarters of an inch more than a typical March.

In Sheridan, Wyo., the mean temperature was 2 degrees cooler than normal at 33.1, and 1.59 inches of precipitation fell, 0.65 inches more than average.

Livingston reported a mean temperature of 34.9 degrees, which is 0.6 cooler than normal, and 1.18 inches of precipitation more than usual.

With March out, the focus now shifts to how much more snow will fall.

April typically sees an average of about 8 inches, with another 2 in May, but Lester cautioned that number is the result of a month that can vary wildly.

“We could see another foot of snow, we could see another two feet, or we could see hardly any,” he said. “Usually, a lot of years, it’s one way or the other. That’s just the average.”

If this April is just average, temperatures should be noticeably warmer in Billings, with an average mean of 46.2 degrees, an average high of 57.6 and an average low just a little cooler than 35.

Lester cautioned that there’s a possibility of more flooding as mountain snowpack — bolstered by a significantly snowier season than usual — melts off with the warming temperatures.

“Looking ahead, we haven’t even began to tap into that mountain snowpack yet,” he said. “In some places, it’s at 140 or 150 percent (of average).”

Often this time of year, the days see a slight warming period in the mountains followed by freezing overnight temperatures, which slows the melting of the snow.

However, extended and constant warmth melts the snow faster and can swell rivers and if a spring rain storm hits with enough moisture, rivers and streams can flood.

“Rain is really bad on snow,” Lester said. “It causes it to come down that much faster and there’s a lot of water that hasn’t come down yet. Those warmer rain systems are the ones we don’t want to see.”

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