Snowplow file

A Montana Department of Transportation snowplow works to keep MacDonald Pass clear in January 2014 as strong winds and heavy snowfall covered the highway.

So far this season, the state of Montana has spent more than $2 million on snow plowing, far eclipsing what costs were at this point over the last two years.

That roughly 250% increase is up from the $575,577 Montana spent from July 1-Oct. 28 last year. And it cost even less, $544,872, to plow during the same period in 2017.

Jon Swartz, the Montana Department of Transportation's maintenance administrator, said Tuesday winter maintenance is the department's No. 1 priority.

"We continually monitor our budgets and expenditures. If we do project a shortfall, we will look at ways to mitigate that shortfall," Swartz said.

Large regions of Montana have been hammered by September and October's record snowstorms. Jake Ganieany, the Response, Recovery and Mitigation bureau chief for the state Disaster and Emergency Services agency, is quick to point out those aren't even technically "winter" events.

"It was not a winter snowstorm; it was the fourth day of fall," Ganieany said of September's blizzard that inundated areas including Browning, Heart Butte and East Glacier with 4 feet of snow.

And Monday's storm pushed Great Falls to more than 31 inches so far for the season, shattering the previous July-October snowfall record of 18 inches from 1984.

The state transportation department reported plowing nearly 277,760 miles by the start of Monday, a figure that didn't capture that day's demand on plows. To put that in perspective, by this point in 2018 state plows had only needed to clear 64,174 miles, or just a quarter of what's been done this year.

September's storm prompted Gov. Steve Bullock to declare a winter storm emergency, which allowed the use of all necessary state services, equipment and supplies to help local governments manage the record snowfall.

The transportation department pays for plowing from its maintenance division budget, which also is used for pavement repair and maintenance, painting stripes on highways and spraying for noxious weeds. Plowing costs include labor; operating the equipment like the plow trucks, loaders, snow blowers, tow plows and graders; and materials like sand, salt and de-icer.

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Megan Syner, the warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Great Falls, said Monday that Browning, Cut Bank, East Glacier, Great Falls and Havre all had their snowiest September on record. Choteau, Great Falls and East Glacier have had record snowfall for the season to date.

Ganieany said Monday as much as he's focusing on the fall storms, he also wants Montanans to be aware of what this season's weather could mean months down the road.

"If we have this much snow that has fallen and will continue to fall, we want people to be looking at flood insurance and the impacts floods can be having early in the spring," Ganieany said. While low-lying areas got a reprieve with warmer temperatures between the September and October storms, the snow did not melt off in the mountains.

Syner said data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows snow-water equivalent for several basins around the state are close to record levels for this time of year.

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