Winter returns

Fire danger and winter advisory issued within 24 hours of each other
Thursday, February 6, 2020
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Photo by Dave Shumway

The East Rosebud lake is surrounded by snow-swept mountains in the Beartooth range. Snowpack in the Beartooths, and nearly every mountain range in the state, is strong, despite a mild December and January.

And just like that, winter has returned.

After two mild weather months, winter returned with a blast of cold, fresh snow and serious wind.

And it’s not done yet.

Early Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook due to the possibility of strong wind and more snow expected to start Wednesday, Feb. 5.

That followed on the heels of a system that brought snow, wind and dramatically reduced temperatures, which started arriving last Saturday night and continued into Monday. Nye received 10 inches of snow from that storm. About 18 miles south of Fishtail recorded 19 inches. Nye’s snowfall total from that first storm was 8.5 inches, with Reed Point, Columbus and Park City getting between 3.5 and 2.7 inches, according to the NWS.


Before the snow arrived last weekend came some unseasonable warm temperatures. On Feb. 2, it was 64 degrees in Columbus (The NWS classifies Feb. 2 as the 24-hour period that ended 6 a.m. on Feb. 2). In fact, it was so warm and dry that fire danger had been elevated, and the Stillwater County burn permit system had already been shut down for a few days.

During the prior 10 days, the high temperature ranged from 47 to 64 degrees in Columbus. The normal high for this time of year is 40 degrees.

Despite being warm, that 64-degree mark registered as the second warmest Feb. 2 on record — the record still stands at 68 degrees in 1934, said NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Tom Frieders.

The mercury swing from Feb. 2 to Feb. 3 was impressive — highs of 64 and 35 respectively, and lows of 34 and 6 degrees below zero. Feb. 4 saw a low of 14 degrees below.


January was a gentle month weather-wise in Columbus. The average daily high of 41.8 degrees was 3.5 degrees warmer than normal. The average daily low of 16.9 degrees was 5.5 degrees warmer than normal. And the 4.7 inches of snowfall compared to the normal January amount of 6.5 inches, according to the NWS.

At Mystic Lake, the average daily high of 33.6 degrees was 2 degrees warmer than normal. The average daily low of 21.7 degrees was 2.3 degrees warmer than normal. And the 96 inches of snow was 16 inches above normal January snowfall.

In Rapelje, the average daily high of 39.9 degrees was 1.1 degree warmer than normal. The average daily low of 17.9 degrees was 2.4 degrees above normal. And the 2.9 inches of snow was well below the normal January snowfall amount of 7.4 inches.


Year-to-date (YTD) snowfall totals are strong.

Columbus currently sits at 38.9 inches, which is 15.8 inches above normal.

Mystic Lake’s YTD snowfall total is 115 inches, up 32.6 inches from normal YTD snowfall for this point. And Rapelje’s YTD snowfall total is 41.2 inches, which is 12.1 inches above normal.

The NWS year runs from July 1 to June 30.


Mountain snowpack statewide is strong, with all 21 river basins that are monitored by the Natural Resources Conversation Service (NRCS) sitting no lower than 98 percent.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 4, some of the basins are as follows:

•Upper Yellowstone: 107 percent

•Lower Yellowstone: 108 percent

•Bighorn River Basin: 113 percent

•Gallatin River Basin: 104 percent

•Madison River Basin: 98 percent

•Jefferson River Basin: 100 percent

•Missouri Headwaters: 101 percent

•Smith, Judith and Musselshell River Basins: 108 percent