Ready or not, a massive winter storm is bearing down on Montana.
National Weather Service forecasters say it could bring close to a foot of wet, heavy snow to many of western Montana’s valleys. The mountains could see double that.
That sort of snow-load combined with anticipated gusty winds could potentially bring down power lines.
If that happens, Northwestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe says crews are ready to respond.
“Montana people are pretty resilient," Larcombe says. "We’ve all seen snowstorms before, but it can be challenging – especially when it’s cold. People get concerned and understandably so. We ask for their patience and want them to know that we’re out there doing the best we can. Our people are some of the best around in terms of working quickly and safely to get people back in power."
Forecasters are using the word "crippling" to describe this snow event. The Montana Department of Transportation’s Brandi Hamilton says the state’s entire fleet of 580 snowplows will be deployed in staggered shifts this weekend.
“As many people as we have, we will have in a plow, especially during a large event like this. Give them room to work," Hamilton says.
Meaning don’t tailgate them, pass only when it's safe to do so and don’t blind plow drivers with your high beams.
Missoula sanding trucks, snow plows and de-icers will also be out in force. Street Superintendent Brian Hensel says those crew will focus on clearing the city’s hillside roads and busiest arteries.
Residential streets are not considered a top priority.
“If I can get into them once or twice a winter we’re doing pretty good," Hensel says. "I certainly understand people’s frustration with it. When you get these big snow events, it’s tough for everyone.”
The heaviest snowfall is predicted from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. Blowing snow could bring near-whiteout conditions along U.S 2 between Marias Pass and Kalispell and from Ovando to MacDonald Pass on Friday night.