HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Flood, snow, avalanche and fire alerts popped up Monday from Idaho to Colorado, as parts of the U.S. interior that were paralyzed by blizzards and floods last month braced for round two of an unusual weather phenomenon.
Welcome to springtime in the Rockies and parts of the Great Plains.
It's not unusual for floods, snow and fire to co-exist in the Rockies thanks to powerful storms blowing through the mountains, melting snow swelling waterways and high winds blowing through dry grasslands and trees that haven't seen their first green shoots and leaves.
Those conditions are what drove a wildfire Sunday on southeastern Montana's Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, where a house fire sparked a blaze that quickly burned through 1,700 acres (688 hectares) of dry grass and trees. It forced evacuations Sunday in Lame Deer, a town of about 2,000 people that is the seat of the tribal government, before fire crews were able to contain it.
Also normal are the fire warnings issued for eastern Colorado on Monday, a day after a wildfire near Colorado Springs forced the temporary evacuation of about 20 homes. Forecasters frequently issue red flag warnings for March and April on the eastern and southeastern Colorado plains as the jet stream moves southward and brings stronger weather systems and higher wind, said Jennifer Stark, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colorado.
“This is the time of year when we get a roller coaster of weather,'' Colorado state climatologist Russ Schumacher said Monday. “Going from 80 degree temperatures one day to a snowstorm the next is not that out of the ordinary, especially in March and April, around here.''
But what is unusual is what's coming next. A storm system that is moving in from the Pacific Ocean is forecast to intensify and form into a new inland “bomb cyclone.''
A bomb cyclone is a rapid drop in air pressure — at least 24 millibars in 24 hours — and often is over or near oceans or seas because it requires warm moist air smacking into cold dry air, along with volatile weather from the jet stream. The central and mountain part of the country may get one of these every few winters, said Greg Carbin, forecast branch chief for the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.
But this would be the second such storm in less than a month. The March 13 storm caused massive flooding in the Midwest, a blizzard in Colorado and Wyoming, and produced winds of between 96 mph and 110 mph (155 and 177.02 kph).
This week's bomb cyclone one is expected to be similar in intensity and in snowfall, meteorologists said. Heavy, wet snow will fall from the Nebraska panhandle through south central and southeastern South Dakota into western Minnesota. Wind speeds can reach 50 mph to 60 mph (80 to 96 kph) across Kansas.
“This blizzard will further exacerbate flooding in Nebraska with the added insult of heavy snowfall to eventually melt,'' said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at the private weathermodels.com. “This is more bad news for suffering farmers who are unable to flip the calendar on winter.''
But first, the storm is expected to flooding in Idaho and western Montana, and dump up to 2 feet (61 centimeters) feet of snow in the mountains of Montana and Wyoming as it moves in from the Pacific Ocean. Parts of Colorado that were under a fire warning Monday are expected to see snow and temperatures drops of more than 40 degrees by Wednesday at the southern edge of the storm, meteorologists said.
While it's unusual to see two consecutive inland bomb cyclones, it's difficult to pin the cause on climate change, said Schumacher.
“I think it's an interesting question to ask whether there's some climate change fingerprint on this,'' he said. “But it's a complicated puzzle to piece together.''
That includes what is happening as the storm forms over the Pacific Ocean, what happens once it's over land and what effect climate change may have on those variables.
“I'm not sure we have the answer,'' Schumacher said.
LAME DEER, Mont. (AP) — A house fire on Montana's Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation sparked a blaze that quickly burned through 1,700 acres (688 hectares) of dry grass and trees and forced evacuations before crews were able to contain it.
The fire spread from the house fire northwest of Lame Deer on Sunday, pushed by strong winds and fed by dry conditions on the ground.
Rosebud County Sheriff Allen Fulton told the Billings Gazette the fire reached the town of about 2,000 people that is the center of the tribal government, but fire crews stopped it at state Highway 39, the main north-south road.
“They got ahead of it and got it contained,'' Fulton said.
He didn't know of any structure losses in Lame Deer. The Lame Deer Junior/Senior High School opened to evacuees, and Fulton said another shelter was opened at the St. Labre Indian School in Ashland.
The fire temporarily closed U.S. Highway 212.
Low humidity and high winds created unusually fire-prone conditions for this time of year.
“The fuels are all dead. We haven't gotten any grass green-up, or in the trees,'' said National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Chambers. “Conditions are as they would be in the late fall.''
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs told The Associated Press last November that fire seasons have been starting earlier and ending later because of climate change and insects and disease killing trees.
“Climate change is real — we are seeing our fire seasons increasing maybe 45, 60 days per year,'' Tubbs said.
WAMEGO, Kan. (AP) — Julia Kabance isn't sure about her new residence. At 108 (109 in August, she says), she had been living independently in her home in St. Marys until about a month ago. There she was still pretty active, doing calisthenics and walking to stay healthy.
A problem with her leg affected her mobility, so she recently needed to move to a nursing home in Wamego. It's nice, but it's not home, she said; though she has a few of her things with her, the room still has a bit of that institutional feel. But Kabance was never one for self-pity.
“If you can live in a barracks with 150 women, you can live here,'' she said. “It's just what you make it.''
Coming from someone who remembers World War I, lived through the Depression and served in World War II, that's no platitude.
Kabance is the oldest member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and one of a handful of remaining Native American veterans from World War II. There's a reasonable chance she's the oldest person in the county, if not the state. (The government doesn't keep records on its oldest citizens, so it's hard to know for sure.)
She told the Manhattan Mercury she'd like to live to at least 112 to have a shot at the national and international titles.
“I'd like to beat those women who were 114 — they both died,'' she said while smiling, but clearly not joking.
Except for deafness she incurred during World War II, she said her health is quite good. And her memory is excellent, it's clear as she shared her recollections from her time in the service.
Kabance joined the Army on March 17, 1943 — St. Patrick's Day. She was 33.
She had gone to school at Haskell Indian Nations University (then called Haskell Institute) and attended the University of Kansas for a semester but didn't have enough money to continue. A sense of duty led her to sign up for the Women's Army Corps.
She went to a recruiting office in Kansas City, and officials put her and 24 other young women on a train to Fort Des Moines.
“They don't treat you like ladies,'' she said of the trip. “They treat you like soldiers. Where we stayed, it had been stables, and they put up bunk beds for us to sleep in.''
They were sent to Fort Leavenworth to take over office jobs so that the men who had been doing them could leave to fight overseas. The men didn't like the women for that reason.
“They said, ‘We were just pulled in. We had no choice. You just walk in because you wanted to be here,'' she recalled. “They rubbed it in all the time. I told them, ‘Well, there is such a thing as patriotism.' I said, ‘The country's at war.' I said, ‘Everybody needs to help.'''
She said a sergeant major in the unit once told her they liked to hire girls. He told her, “I can get more work out of one WAC than three lazy GIs.''
Kabance spent 33 months in the Army, doing clerical work and for a time, serving as a driver until an officer realized there was just one woman among the drivers and decided that could be dangerous for Kabance to be alone around so many men.
She considered making a career of the military, but Kabance felt she ought to return home to take care of her mother.
Kabance had been the 11th of 12 children. She had two sisters, one of whom was married, but she felt the responsibility would fall to her. She cared for her mother for four years until her mother died.
After that she went back to work, first for the Air Force in Topeka until the base closed. She went back to school for accounting and worked mostly for military installations. Her work took her to Washington state and on the East Coast.
Kabance also spent a lot of time volunteering with the VA and with the Catholic Church. Kabance said her faith is very important to her.
Kabance grew up on a farm on the reservation near Holton. Her father, Frank, was a successful farmer and rancher, she said.
“Most Indians at that time had to go to the association to get permission to farm their land,'' she said. “My father said, ‘I'm not going to do that. It's my land.'''
One of her earliest memories is of her family getting its first car when she was 3 years old.
“They didn't have self-starters then, they had to hand-crank it,'' she said. “Just about the time they got it started, it went ‘Bang!' and backfired. I wanted to jump out!''
She recalls going to town and the cars scaring horses and mules, too.
She said what she remembers of World War I as the rationing, especially of meat.
Looking at her long life, Kabance said she's not sure she has any secrets for longevity. She said part of it may have been her independence. Because she never married, “I could do whatever I wanted,'' she said.