Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The National Weather Service Office in Missoula is calling for bitter cold below zero temperatures to arrive in west central and southwest Montana by Sunday, and may continue through Christmas Day.

KGVO News spoke to Meteorologist Brian Conlin who described the forecast.

“We have moderate to high confidence that we're going to see a change to a prolonged very cold period starting this Sunday,” began Conlin. “The setup is pretty good. There'll be a weakness in the flow aloft that's going to allow arctic air to drop down here and then south of Greenland, a high-pressure system is going to develop which will block the movement of systems to the east. That's what will allow for it to be a prolonged period of cold temperatures.

Conlin laid out the initial forecast starting on Sunday.

“We're looking at, potentially for most of Western Montana, the high temperature being 10 degrees on Sunday, and it not warming above that out to the 25th of December,” he said. “It may take until Monday for that cold air to get into Missoula and the Bitterroot valleys, but in general, most of Western Montana we'll see that by Sunday.”

After this first push of frigid air, Conlin said there will be yet another cold front headed our way.

“By Monday morning, most areas will see overnight lows below zero,” he said. “For the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys, I believe it is a 30 percent chance, and for most other locations, it was 40 percent. After that, a second push of arctic air will happen around midweek and we're expecting now it'll be the period where low temperatures of negative 10 to negative 20 are going to be possible, especially along the Continental Divide, in southwest Montana and some of the colder areas up in northwest Montana.”

Conlin said for Missoula in particular, the temperatures will probably not get colder than five below zero.

“Right now the coldest temperatures that we have forecast currently are about negative five,” he said. “25 to 75 percent of the models have a range of five degrees and this will be on Thursday morning of anywhere from negative five degrees to negative 20. However, for that particular day, we have negative five in the actual forecast for the day.”

Conlin said near-term forecast models do not indicate another change in pattern until potentially after Christmas Day.

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