Record Breaker February storms smash 53-year-old record

Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, February 13, 2020
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Photo by Alastair Baker
A Montana Department of Transportation vehicle prepares to remove tons of snow from Red Lodge Main Street.

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Photo by Alastair Baker
A Montana Department of Transportation vehicle prepares to remove tons of snow from Red Lodge Main Street.

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Courtesy photo
Trent Emineth of Coffee Roasters lends a hand clearing the snow in Red Lodge.

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Library photo
From Carbon County News, Feb. 23, 1967, Mayor D.W. Columbus uses the then record-breaking 43 inches of snowfall to practice for an upcoming challenge race with several other mayors. Unfortunately after a “flood of citizen complaints,” the City Police Department stepped in and cited the Mayor for reckless driving and exceeding the 30 M.P.H. speed limit. Issuing the citation is City policeman Mike Martin, complete with snowshoes.

While January went out like a lamb and we grew complacent weather-wise sauntering around in t-shirts, February roared in like a lion reminding us all that this is still the winter season and we need to wrap up.

With its mighty growl, February broke its previous best snowfall record of 43 inches in 1967 by dumping 48.5 inches of snow on Red Lodge within the first 10 days of the month. 

The average snowfall for Red Lodge in February is 12.9 inches according to Ray Masters, Red Lodge’s Weather Observer. 

For the record, the lowest amount of snow recorded for this month was a trace, back in 1915. 

The cause of the storm appears to be a low-pressure system passing through the State followed by an unstable northwest flow that created bands of snow rotating over Red Lodge. 

The storm left Red Lodge encased in snow and other parts of Carbon County with wind-generated drifts and icy roads. Bearcreek Hill was briefly closed on Saturday. 

Over the course of the week, a total of 35 slide-offs were reported with 20 of them happening on Feb. 6.  The Stillwater Mine bus also got stuck at 16th Street West and Hauser Ave. S.

Red Lodge Mountain Resort received 4 feet of new snow that, although welcome, did cause a few issues with drivers attempting to get to the resort. 

“The mountain road was closed briefly Saturday night. They had too many people,” said Carbon County Sheriff Josh McQuillan. 

The traffic finally got moving with flaggers working a one-way system said McQuillan.

The Sheriff’s Department also assisted in helping a driver get home because they were scared of the roads. 

The Red Lodge City Police also reported a “very busy” period during the storm helping dig travelers out.

“We’ve been shoveling out a lot of people, pushing them out,” said Red Lodge Police Chief Jason Wells. “That is what we are here for, public service. We answer every call. Having good vehicles is very important to us.”

Chief Wells is impressed with how the town’s people came together to help each other.

“The thing I really enjoy is seeing a lot of neighbors helping out other people. They are plowing for people, free of charge, helping shovel people out, people that can’t get to the door, or haven’t the ability to do it. That is what is really great about this community. People have taken time to do that,” said Wells. 

Red Lodge Mayor Bill Larson was also impressed with how people have come together. 

“I need to commend all the people in town for pitching in and helping with their neighbors. I mean it is unbelievable, people walking up and down the street with snow shovels and digging people out. Nobody is complaining. The independent snow removal people are doing a good job,” said Larson. 

“There is a ton of snow. The streets are getting really narrow, and Public Works is doing the best they can with what they have with a piece of machinery down,” he said. 

A meeting Tuesday afternoon between emergency services and Public Works paved the way for an effective plan to deal with travel issues in town should more snow fall.  For now, Public Works will keep Broadway and all streets around the schools open. They will try to widen residential streets and create parking spaces by pushing snow back towards the sidewalks. Should the weather worsen, and further snow footage should occur, then a system of temporary one-way road patterns will be established to help not just motorists get around but also emergency services.   

The Montana Department of Transportation moved in on Tuesday to overhaul the tons of snow along Main Street. The snow was transported to the Rodeo Grounds.