Record September Snowfall Hits Montana, Northwest US States, Governor Declares Winter Emergency

A surprise burst of September snowfall in the northern Rocky Mountains prompted Montana's governor to declare an emergency Sunday with as much as 40 inches of snow blocking roadways and burying homes across several states.

Despite the calendar only showing this weekend to be early fall, Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a winter emergency in order to mobilize resources to push back against scattered power outages and state troopers reporting several vehicles sliding off roads. The towns of Browning and St. Mary in Montana received snowfall which broke century-long daily records, and the National Weather Service recorded the first September 28 snow at Missoula International Airport since 1893.

Photographs and videos of East Glacier and Browning, Montana, show entire homes and vehicles covered in several feet of snowfall and advisory warnings continue to list winds at up to 45 mph through Monday morning.

Winter storm warnings were issued in western Montana, northeast Washington, northern Idaho and several other Northwest regions Sunday. Parts of Wyoming, Oregon and Nevada were also included in the warnings, although much of the heavy, wet snowfall focused on Montana. Blizzard warnings extended through 6 a.m. Monday for the Southern and Northern Rocky Mountain Fronts under at least 6 inches of snow.

"We have very wet and heavy snow, which has compacted down, making it look less than 14 inches," said Thomas Pepe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, in an interview with The New York Times Sunday. The city was hit with 9.7 inches of snow, which set a record dating back to 1954, before receiving an additional snowfall of nearly 5 inches on Sunday. "But we're just getting into round two of snowfall—it's starting to intensify again. It's pretty bleak out there."

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow described the record-setting snowfall as a "February storm in September" which state residents are used to -- just not in early fall.

"In the 20 years that I've been here, I have never felt as much angst among my community," said Cassie Barnett, 50, who lives near Fairfield in northwestern Montana, in an interview with the Times. "The scariest thing is for our neighbors, who are farmers. The crops they had in the ground are now buried in the snow."

Highways and interstates remained open across the region, but state officials encouraged people not to plan statewide travel early this week.

Just incredible.

— Brady Brewster - NBC Montana (@BradyNBCMT) September 30, 2019

NBC Montana reporter Brady Brewster shared several photographs and videos of people digging out their porches and standing next to snow which towered above their heads. One local resident, Mina Kipp, recorded her husband diving into a snow drift outside their home.

Montana weather officials predicted more wintry weather and mountain snow beginning again on Friday.

Farmers and ranchers in the area reported a last-minute scramble to protect livestock from the September snowfalls, noting a "strong economic impact" on the region. "Our weather goes from one extreme to another, so it could get warm again," Glacier's Mow added. "We have to play with what nature sends us."

Bullock issued a statement to Montana residents Sunday: "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. Montanans should heed all warnings from state and local officials, travel safely and be cautious during this time."

blizzard winter weather montana snowfall
A surprise burst of September snowfall in the northern Rocky Mountains prompted the Montana Governor to declare an emergency Sunday as several feet of snow blocked roadways and buried homes across several states. Screenshot: AccuWeather