Western Montana’s weather forecast for the rest of this holiday work week can be summarized with three words: ‘sloppy’, ‘messy’ and ‘tricky’.
Western Montana’s high country could get loads of snow through Wednesday, while the valleys will get a smorgasbord of everything winter; rain, snow, freezing rain – wash, rinse, repeat:
“That’s a great way to put it for our valley locations,” Joe Messina, a meterologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, says.
Messina says western Montana’s valleys are almost certainly going to get hit with a wintery mix of conditions over the next few days, some of which could lead to dangerous driving conditions.
Details, however, are proving tricky to predict:
“Where exactly that rain, snow line is going to be, how much snow can we expect in the valleys like Missoula, the Mission Valley and the Bitterroot Valley – those places we’re still investigating," Messina says. "We’re not super-confident it’s going to be all snow or all rain. It’s going to be a mix.”
Valley snow accumulation may not amount to much, a few inches here and there at best.
The high country is a different story. The mountain passes, especially along the Montana, Idaho border could get dumped on through Wednesday.
“So for mountain snow, we’re looking at 12 to 18 inches for Lookout Pass and Lolo Pass. Marias Pass could see up to 12 inches; even up to 20 inches in places,” Messina says.
The mountains could also get some particularly gusty winds – possibly up to 50 mile-per-hour gusts in the Mission and Bitterroot ranges.
The Rocky Mountain Front and eastern Glacier County could get winds out of the southwest gusting to 70 miles-per-hour.
“Enjoy the new snow, for sure. Ski areas will do great. The backcountry will also do great," Messina says. "But with that comes inherent risks. Consult your local avalanche center if you’re going into the backcountry. Those guys have their finger on the pulse of the snowpack, so that’s always a good place to start.”
Central and southwest Montana could also get heavy, high elevation snow.
Those driving home from holiday vacations needs to be prepared for rapidly changing road conditions.