Snowing a ton in Helena! Well, a lot anyway…

Snow falls outside the state capitol building Friday afternoon

A winter storm is moving through the state, a fact very obvious to those especially in North, Central and Southwest Montana. Those areas have seen heavy snowfall today. That snow is expected to last through the night, followed by very cold temperatures on Saturday.

I’m walking outside the back door of the capitol. With me, a new reporter who just started working down the hall from me, Chudney Matta, the Helena reporter for ABC 5.”

We’re getting lightly assaulted by snow at this point.

She’s been in Montana for about 4 weeks now, coming from,“Sunny California! Los Angeles!”

She wakes up this morning, looks out the window and thinks, “Looks like all the roads will be closed this morning so I won’t have to go to work.”

Wishful thinking for Chudney, I’m afraid.

It has been a lot of snow though.

“Right now, the heaviest reports have been coming from down in Helena around Butte this afternoon in terms of intensity,” said Great Falls-based National Weather Service Meteorologist Nick Langlieb.

He says across the plains of North Central Montana up to the Rocky Mountain Front it has snowed a foot or more. 17 inches in the Heart Butte area.

“A little over 14 here in Great Falls,” he said.

And over a foot in Helena too. It’s been a challenge for reporter Chudney Matta out on the beat.

“I traded in a SUV I had in LA for a smaller car thinking ‘hey I would do great in Montana with this car and I’ve been having a really difficult time getting up hills.”

She had to leave her car behind for a few hours, getting a ride with someone else.

“It’s been bananas,” she said.

West of the Continental Divide has not seen nearly the snowfall, an average of 3 to 6 inches. Meteorologist Nick Langlieb says the snow should start to lighten up tomorrow morning.

And it’s going to get cold.

“It looks like tonight temperatures will be anywhere from the single digits below zero around Cut Bank around the Rocky Mountain Front to the single digits and teens above zero across Southwest Montana and tomorrow highs will only be in the single digits and teens,” he said.

Another new one for Chudney Matta.

“I don’t think that my thermometer gets that low!” she laughed.

Montanans readjust to icy conditions

Rockhand Ace Hardware Floor Manager Steve Edwards picks up a bag of rock salt Tuesday

Western Montanans are still looking at below average temperatures for the rest of this week and drivers are readjusting to the icy conditions.

National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Uttech says this is really the first weather system of the season bringing pervasive icy conditions.

“Where the ice would maybe persist for several days or a week especially in the mountain passes before we can get a warm-up to come in,” Uttech said.

Uttech says the snow that fell throughout many parts of Western Montana has moved up North into Canada. The low temperatures, though, will stick around.

“Yeah, it looks like it’s gonna be well below average at least through Saturday,” Uttech said.

Some places 20 degrees below normal or more. Uttech reminds drivers to especially watch for icy conditions on bridges, passes and shady areas.

Floor manager over at Helena’s Rockhand Ace Hardware Steve Edwards says he’s glad the area is getting the moisture.

“You know with the dryness that we’ve had all Summer long,” he said. “Perfect time, the precipitation’s supposed to be coming down all week, hopefully.”

Also, that quick change in weather brings in the customers.

“Great for business,” Edwards said.

The store’s been selling plenty of snow shovels and ice scrapers over the last day. He walks over and grabs a 20 pound bag of rock salt from a stack of hundreds. Customers are buying these up too.

“Probably about 50 bags (in the last day) but that’s still a far cry from the 500 a month that we’ll sell in the middle of the wintertime,” he said.

One of many hot items for the cold months ahead.

Helena area looks to prevent repeat of 2011 floods

Helena resident Sharlene Larance looks over a new ditch and culvert network installed near her home on Tuesday

The National Weather Service predicts a less-severe flood season for Montana in 2012.

Major floods covered large areas of the state last Spring, causing damage to homes and infrastructure.

Officials are still urging caution. Lewis and Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Paul Spengler says most of the winter snowpack is still waiting in the mountains and we are heading into the two rainiest months of the year in May and June.

“It’s prime, it’s ready to come out because of the hot weather so if we get a lot of heavy rain on that that could cause some problems,” Spengler said.

Lewis and Clark County is trying to prevent any repeats of last year’s flooding in the Helena Valley. The County has spent about $70 thousand in the last year on flood mitigation efforts.

A paving crew beside Helena’s Forestvale road was covering up a wide gap in a turnoff to a parking lot on Tuesday–a gap opened to put in a new culvert three feet in diameter.

Truck driver Jeff Hoffman works with the crew. He lives close by and said these pipes will make a big difference.

“Oh yeah, I think they will, because they’re a lot bigger than they used to be,” he said.

“There’s been significant changes,” said Sharlene Larance, who lives a block or two away.

She was looking up and down the now dusty street. The wide culverts run parallel to the road, beneath each side street, running into deep ditches freshly carved this year.

Larance says this whole area was underwater last June. She pointed to a nearby turnoff.

“They actually had a picture of some kids in a boat in the paper,” she said, pointing to a nearby turnoff.

Her house doesn’t have much of a basement, so she escaped without too much damage. Other homes in the neighborhood weren’t so lucky. Larance joined the local Valley Flood Committee formed as the waters receded last Summer. Residents on the committee have met every month over the last year with county officials—looking for a solution.

“We squawk and squeal and hope we get attention,” she said, laughing.

Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Derek Brown also attends the flood committee meetings. He says most of the money spent on flood prevention in the last year was spent on this project–on the culverts and the ditches along this road.

“That’s the part of the county that had the most significant damage, the highest population concentration,” Brown said. “There were flooding events in rural areas but they didn’t affect very many people.”

Lewis and Clark County has hired an engineering firm to make a long-range plan for flood prevention. Brown says more projects will come in the future as finances allow. Still, neighbors in adjacent areas have attended recent flood committee meetings threatening to sue over what they see as unfair treatment.

As Sharlene Larance says, there is still a lot of squawking to do.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is calling this week the first ever Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

The agency says families should know the potential emergencies for their area well and have plans in place should those emergencies occur.

You can find a lot more information on FEMA’s disaster preparedness recommendations by clicking this link.