Incoming winter storm is expected to disrupt travel across Montana
The most powerful winter storm of the season is poised to sweep across Montana. The complex weather system is anticipated to have wide-reaching impacts on travel.
National Weather Service Missoula says the winter blast will develop in several stages through Friday night.
The system’s first stage started early Wednesday with Arctic air slipping across the Continental Divide, driving wind chill factors to below zero.
Stage two begins late Wednesday as that cold air pushes further into western Montana.
Steady moderate-to-heavy snowfall is likely just in time to complicate Thursday morning’s commute.
“We are looking at the valleys getting anywhere from 3 to 12 inches of snow,” Meteorologist Trent Smith says.
Northern and southwest Montana could get 3 to 5 inches of snow. Other areas like Seeley Lake and Heron could reel in a full foot of fresh powder. Broader valleys, including Missoula, could get up to 9 inches. Great Falls, Billings and Bozeman – anywhere from a couple of inches to half a foot. Snow accumulation in the mountains will be measured in feet.
Valleys across the Northern Rockies could see that snow turn to freezing rain by Friday.
“For the next 24 hours, travel probably is not advised. It could be very difficult travel through the Friday time frame,” says Steve Felix, the Missoula-area Maintenance Chief for the Montana Department of Transportation.
Felix is paying close attention to the rapid-fire National Weather Service updates. He manages a team of 85 full and part-time snow-plow drivers. He says one of the biggest challenges they face is impatient drivers who crowd snow plows on the road.
“We had a plow hit here in the Drummond area a couple hours ago. Fortunately no one was injured, but a lady did total her car out — struck the back of a plow truck.“
Felix urges drivers to be patient with slower-moving plows that he says are trying to improve road safety.
The messy winter blast will likely peter out by Saturday, only to be replaced next week by potential temperature inversions, fog and generally stagnant air.