Shades of gray

Clouds cover the Bittterroot Mountains above the Bitterroot River. The forecast is calling for more gray days and cloudy skies this week.

Feeling a little gloomy? Maybe a little under the weather?

Experts warn that when it’s cold and dark outside, people can succumb to what’s known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD. About one in four people biologically feel Mother Nature’s gloom around this time of year, and an estimated 11 million people suffer from a more severe form of winter depression, which is SAD.

The Bitterroot’s recent weather hasn’t lifted many spirits. Only five days were deemed “clear” by the National Weather Service in December 2017 and January 2018. That time frame saw 16 partly cloudy days, and 38 cloudy days.

Clear is defined as less than 30 percent of the sky has cloud cover, according to Corby Dickerson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Partly cloudy means 40 percent to 70 percent of the sky is covered with clouds, and cloudy is 80 percent or greater.

The NWS figures don’t include the days the Bitterroot experienced inversions, where heavy clouds settle into the valley.

Dickerson notes that this is about average for the Bitterroot, even though last year had twice as many clear days — 10 — with 19 partly cloudy and 33 cloudy days. It’s still better than December 2015 through January 2016, which didn’t have any clear days; instead, there were 22 partly cloudy days and 40 cloudy days.

It won’t get better anytime soon. Dickerson said moisture is moving in for the weekend, with rain expected in the valley. An Arctic front is coming in from the north, possibly turning the rain to snow north of Stevensville on Sunday morning.

“The Arctic cold mass moving down the Continental Divide will affect mainly northwest Montana — the Flathead, Glacier, Seeley-Swan areas,” Dickerson said. “It may dip into Missoula and the lower Bitterroot, with the rain changing to snow. The southern part of the Bitterroot will stay cold and rainy.”

Blue skies may be on tap for Tuesday and possibly for Wednesday, but the forecast then calls for increasing moisture and cooler temperatures.

The flip side to all the clouds and rain is that it’s snowing in the mountains. The Bitterroot’s snowpack is at 115 percent of normal. Lost Trail Powder Mountain has a 60-inch base at the lodge, and received a foot of snow in the past 72 hours. The snowfall to date there is 216 inches, with 100 percent of the mountain open.

“It’s looking like Lost Trail could get 8 to 10 inches, maybe a little more, this weekend,” Dickerson said.

Lolo Pass also reports a 65-inch base, and is hosting its Winter Skills Demo Day this weekend, featuring motor sports demonstrations and equipment on Saturday, and winter camping, cross-country ski clinics, snowshoeing and avalanche beacon training.

If the cloudy skies and lack of sunlight from winter’s shorter days still gets you down, Dickerson said to head southwest.

“The north and east are poor choices; you’ll be driving into an Arctic air mass with frigid cold from eastern Montana to North Dakota to Minnesota,” Dickerson said. “Your best bet is to go south — farther than Salmon, but you might see some sun in Pocatello or on the Snake River plains. The southwest part of Oregon could be a bit better too.”


Associate Editor

Associate Editor at The Ravalli Republic