June 4, 2001 - Snow Hits Western Montana

A late spring snowstorm hit western Montana in early June, 2001, starting the morning of June 3 and reaching its peak just before dawn on June 4. Up to 18 inches of snow fell in the mountains west of the Continental Divide, with up to four inches in the lower valleys. While some communities in the higher valleys received more snow, the hardest hit was the city of Missoula, where the tens of thousands of norway maples lining the residential streets bowed under the weight of the wet snow.

About 2:00am on the morning of June 4, the city's trees began to shed their overloaded limbs. By dawn, the city was a tangled mass of greenery, fallen wires, smashed windshields, crumpled fenders, collapsed fences, and bowed porches. Of the city's 25,000 boulevard trees, most planted in the early 1920s, about 6,000 were severely damaged by the storm. Many ancient lilac bushes, some 20 feet high or more, also collapsed, as they were in full bloom. The heaviest damage was in the lower Rattlesnake Creek area below Mount Jumbo and the University and Slant areas below Mount Sentinel.

We live in the Slant area and I commute to the University by bicycle. Here is a photo essay of my morning commute the day of the storm.

A Most Unusual Morning Commute

Good Morning!

No, the thumping and bumping was NOT the morning paper arriving on the porch, but branches falling on the roof. Fortunately, both cars parked in front of the house were spared.

 

The side yard fared the worst. These branches stayed attached to the tree, but several large branches on the street side fell, and the gate to the back yard was blocked by a large branch that later fell.

 

This view of the intersection of West Beckwith Ave. and Blaine St. is deceptive: Beckwith is an emergency route, so street crews pushed the broken limbs into yards and between parked cars as they fell. After this photo was taken (about 5:30 AM), many more limbs fell.

 

Further down our block, a major fork in a maple blocks the sidewalk, narrowly missing a neighbor's house.

 

University Avenue

The University District, a roughly six-square block area filled with stately turn-of-the-century homes and fraternity and sorority houses, was hardest hit in the city, with major damage to over one-third of the trees. Most of the streets remained impassable for two days during the cleanup.

 

Gerald Avenue

Gerald Avenue, site of some of Missoula's finest homes, is closed, as were all the other streets in the University district except US Highway 12 East (Sixth Street). Mike Faris (pictured on right) and I were the only commuters to get to the University by this route, but even we were forced to detour our bicycles a couple blocks further down University Avenue, where overhead street light wiring lay tangled in the street, which was also completely blocked with debris. The few pedestrians out this morning walked down the middle of the street, as most sidewalks were blocked by falled or sagging branches.

 

Campus Loses Oak

This white oak at the entrance to the Fine Arts Building split in thirds, and was a total loss. Most of the maples on campus shed limbs, but will survive.

 

Summer at the University of Montana

One week into the Summer 2001 term, the campus is draped in snow, against the backdrop of Mount Sentinel. This picture was taken about 9:00am. By the end of the day (Monday), the snow line was halfway up the mountain, and by Thursday, hang gliders were launching off the summit into 80-degree updrafts from the valley floor. The week ended in thunderstorms and rain, with high mountain snow predicted for Sunday and Monday, again.