A remarkable early season storm system impacted the Northern Rockies during the last few days of September, producing record snow for many areas. The cold and wet/snowy pattern has persisted into the first few days of October as well.
A slow-moving low pressure system containing unseasonably cold air arrived at the end of last week. The east side of Glacier National Park was hit the hardest, where up to FOUR FEET of snow fell in some areas.
Take a look at this graphic from the National Weather Service office in Great Falls, Montana, which shows storm total snowfall amounts from the September 28-30, 2019 storm:
Record September snowfall for several cities
Locations from Northwest Montana to Eastern Washington experienced record September snowfall from this storm. Great Falls, Montana recorded 9.7″ of snow on September 28th, breaking the old September single-day record of 6.1″.
Missoula, Montana recorded 1.7″ of snow from this storm, which was the heaviest on record for the month of September.
Spokane, Washington recorded its first measurable snowfall in September since 1926! The city recorded a total of 3.3″ of snow on the 29-30th, setting the record for the most snowfall ever in September.
Pullman, Washington recorded accumulating snow in September for the first time in its recorded history.
Early snow impacts to recreation in Glacier National Park
The heavy snow certainly favored central and eastern portions of Glacier National Park. While temperatures have remained unseasonably cold, it’s still early enough in the year that snow depths have quickly been shrinking over the past couple of days across the lower elevations.
Most of the hiking areas from Two Medicine to Many Glacier are still very snowy. Logan Pass remains closed, and this late in the year you have to wonder if it will open again this season.
Here are webcam images from this afternoon at Many Glacier and Logan Pass:
Many Glacier Webcam:
Logan Pass Webcam:
On the west side of Glacier National Park, snowfall was much lighter. Across the lower/mid elevations, webcams indicate mostly snow free conditions. Take a look at the webcam image above Lake McDonald on Tuesday afternoon, October 2nd.
Apgar Mountain Webcam (view of Lake McDonald):
Over the coming 1-2 weeks, we should see an overall melting trend in Glacier for all but the higher peaks. The higher elevation hiking areas are unlikely to melt out fully again before winter sets in, though.
For the next couple of weeks, temperatures are projected to remain colder than average overall. Precipitation chances will be fewer and farther between compared to recently, but we aren’t going to totally dry out.
The next chance of mountain snow/valley rain will arrive Friday/Saturday of this week, and again around the middle of next week. However, new snowfall from these events should be much lighter compared to recent storms.
Canada gets dumped on as well
Heading north of the border, the Canadian Rockies including Banff and Jasper National Parks were slammed with heavy snowfall totals not dissimilar to Glacier. I would imagine snow-free hiking is going to be tough to find in these areas now. Although the yellow larches surrounded by fresh snow will make for some very cool scenes.
Check out this webcam image from Lake Louise Ski Area from Tuesday afternoon, October 2nd. On a tangent – this place is spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out, whether for hiking or for skiing!
Lake Louise Ski Area Webcam:
The webcam image on Tuesday October 2nd from Banff-Sunshine Ski area paints a similar picture. Spectacular, but lots of high elevation snow.
Banff-Sunshine Ski Area Webcam:
Snow also impacts higher elevations of Washington, Idaho, Southwest Montana, Wyoming, and Utah
The weekend system brought heavy mountain snow and well below average temperatures to areas outside of Glacier National Park as well.
Washington State had snow fall to pass levels over the weekend. Webcams indicate that areas such as Hurricane Pass in Olympic National Park and Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park are mostly snow-free now. However, hikers should still expect to encounter significant snow at the higher elevations in the Cascades for the foreseeable future.
Most of the ski areas and higher elevations in Idaho picked up respectable snowfall amounts from this storm. Some of the higher elevations outside of the ski areas, such as the Sawtooth Range, appear to have picked up heavy snowfall totals.
Sun Valley picked up snow over the weekend and again Monday night/Tuesday morning as a second wave of snow showers moved through. It appears there was good melting on Tuesday afternoon, at least on sunny aspects, while high elevations and shaded aspects remain snowy.
Want to see something cool? Check out this time lapse webcam video from Sun Valley showing the changing weather and snow conditions over the past 24-hours, ending Tuesday afternoon October 2nd. I found this on their website this afternoon, and thought it was just the coolest thing ever!
Sun Valley Webcam Timelapse:
At my home in Jackson Hole, we saw plenty of cold, wet, and snowy weather over the weekend. The higher elevations of Grand Teton National Park picked up about a foot of snow on Saturday. Hiking trails above 8,000 feet look very snowy from what I can see.
The Wind River Range likely picked up even higher snowfall amounts from the weekend storm, while Yellowstone National Park amounts were likely a bit lower. This all had to do with the placement of the jet stream with this system.
This morning (Tuesday October 2nd), a second wave of snow showers moved through, bringing additional snow to the Tetons and Yellowstone. We even saw some snow on the valley floor Tuesday.
I took a hike with my camera this morning and snapped this image of snow on aspens in peak fall color:
The weekend storm and additional snow this morning has left heavy snowfall across the Big Sky, Bozeman, and Beartooth region of Southwest Montana as well. Check out this webcam image from Big Sky Ski Area on Tuesday October 2nd.
Big Sky Ski Area Webcam:
Elsewhere, Northern Utah got in on the action with higher elevations at the ski areas picking up respectable snowfall amounts. This storm largely missed Colorado where hikers, mountain bikers, and peak baggers can still enjoy largely snow-free activities with peak fall colors.
Cool pattern to continue for the Northern Rockies, but with less precipitation
As I hinted at earlier, the pattern will remain cool but not as wet/snowy for the foreseeable future. Two weaker systems are set to bring high elevation snow to areas from Glacier to Yellowstone to the Tetons over the next week.
The first will arrive on Friday/early Saturday, and the next looks to arrive in about a week from now. Obviously there is more uncertainty with next week’s system given we are 7 days out. At the moment, neither looks like a major storm.
For the 8-14 day period, the pattern will continue to favor cooler than average temperatures. In general, long range models indicate near average precipitation during this time for the Northern Rockies and drier conditions farther south.
NOAA still paints a slight bias toward above normal precipitation across the Pacific Northwest and below normal precipitation across the Tetons/Yellowstone in its 8-14 day outlook. This gives a good general idea of what to expect.
NOAA 8-14 Day Temperature Outlook:
NOAA 8-14 Day Precipitation Outlook: