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Blackfeet Reservation Digging Out After Record-Breaking Snowstorm

Near Browning, MT as seen from a Montana Department of Transportation camera on the morning of Sept. 28.
Near Browning, MT as seen from a Montana Department of Transportation camera on the morning of Sept. 28.

The Blackfeet Tribe and Montanans east of the Rocky Mountain Front are just beginning to dig out of a record-breaking early-season snowstorm. It'll take a few days for the snow to melt and things to return to normal. By Saturday morning, 20 inches of snow had already fallen on the Blackfeet Nation.

Robert Desrosier with the Blackfeet Nation’s Disaster and Emergency Services says the tribe activated its emergency operations that morning and closed all roads except Highway 2 East.

Reached by phone Monday, Desrosier says most calls for help didn’t start to pour in until Sunday.

"We responded to calls all day. Since Friday till this morning we had 43 ambulance calls and multiple calls for service and rescue."

Gov. Steve Bullock declared a winter storm emergency Sunday, which gives municipalities and counties the chance to get reimbursed for damages. The state says that’s likely in a couple of locations.

Jane Fogleman with the National Weather Service in Great Falls says 4 feet of snow was recorded in Browning as of Monday morning.That obliterates the city’s 13-inch record for September snowfall from 1934 and also breaks the record for a two-day snow event.

"The greatest two-day snowfall total was 36 inches on the 25th of Sept., 1908," Fogleman says.

The Montana Department of Transportation closed a number of highways. According to the Montana Highway Patrol, nine cars were reported to have crashed or slid off the road in Glacier County over the weekend.

The National Weather Service was able to accurately forecast the storm well ahead of time, and the Blackfeet Nation’s Robert Desrosier says most heeded the warning.

That allowed the tribe to close some roads early and get a Red Cross shelter set up before the weekend. Desrosier says the snow began melting Monday and the tribe is plowing roads.

"And so we’re just a bunch of busy little ants up here trying to dig out from this storm."

As of Monday afternoon, Highway 49 between St. Mary and East Glacier and Highway 213 from Cut Bank to the Canadian Border remained closed.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.