Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The leaves were still on many Missoula trees when the snow fell in November and the temperatures dropped below zero. Now, more than three months later, the valley snowpack is only beginning to retreat.

While the depth of snow isn't a record, the number of days the valley has had snow on the ground is now within the Top 10, meteorologists with the National Weather Service office in Missoula said.

“We've had measurable snow on the ground for quite some time,” said meteorologist Dan Zumpfe. “It stands out pretty starkly in the number of days where we've had snow on the ground.”

But now the snowpack is beginning to recede and in the process, it's revealing the piles of leaves that were raked and never collected, or never raked at all. It's setting up to be an extensive spring cleanup for both residents and city street crews.

While the city generally collects leaves from various neighborhoods in November, the early snow prevented last year's cleanup. Ginny Merriam, the city's communications director, said Public Works is formulating a plan for the spring, though it hasn't been solidified.

“Leaf collection will likely be part of spring cleanup,” she said. “We will do plenty of public notification.”

In most years, the city sweeps the streets in the spring, ridding it of gravel and winter debris. This year, that cleaning effort also may include leaf collection, less the leaves decompose in place.

Because of the early November snow and subzero temperatures that came with it, the snow has piled up over the winter months, burying the leaves once poised for collection.

So far this winter, Zumpfe said Missoula has received nearly 36 inches of snow as of Friday.

“We're trending a bit high right now, but we haven't had much snow lately,” he said. “Looking out, I think we're going to be decidedly average if things continue in the direction they've been going.”

While light snow showers are expected this weekend, the snowpack isn't expected to increase dramatically. But in years past, February has delivered. That included 2014 when heavy snow prompted an avalanche on Mount Jumbo.

Of the 36 inches received this winter, 25.3 inches fell after Dec. 1. The additional 10 inches fell in what Zumphe described as a “blockbuster November.”

At the time, the leaf-raking wasn't finished and collection never took place.

“Because of the anomalous snow and the anomalous cold, it allowed the snow to stay on the ground,” Zumphe said. “The length of days where we've had snow on the ground measures in the Top 10.”