Will Montana Winter Finally Return This Weekend?
After a relatively snow-free month, December is reminding us that it is winter in Montana. And could impact your weekend plans, especially if you're traveling, or plan to be outdoors.
Even though some pass areas could see up to a foot of snowfall, we're still going to be a long way from what would be a "normal" amount of snow as we start the last month of the year.
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for the Lower Clark Fork, and areas across the border in Idaho. Winter Winter Advisories are up for all of Northwest Montana, from Polson, through the Flathead and west through the Kootenai-Cabinet region.
The changes started Thursday evening
Some areas, including the Upper Clark Fork Valley, began seeing light snow showers in advance of the storm, as a weak disturbance put an end to the dry, cold weather of the past week.
By Friday morning, snowfall was widespread across the Lower Clark Fork and north of Flathead Lake. That led to a few accidents and some slow traffic climbing over Lookout Pass.
Rough travel conditions expected
The stronger storm is expected to move across the Northern Rockies late Friday into Saturday morning with NWS forecasters saying there's an "80 to 100% chance" of 8 inches, or more, of snow to fall at Lookout and Lolo Passes overnight. While some of the snow could extend southward, there's only a 20% chance of similar snowfall over Lost Trail Pass.
Most of the snow will stay out of the valleys, although accumulations are possible, and could be anywhere from half-an-inch to a couple of inches over Northwest Montana, with lighter amounts in Missoula and the Bitterroot.
Freezing rain could be the larger problem
With temperatures climbing into the mid-30s again Saturday, the bigger hazard could be areas of freezing rain, especially in the Lower Clark Fork, where snow levels could remain below 3,000 feet into Saturday night.
If you're traveling over the passes, especially Lookout Pass, you should make sure your vehicle is ready for winter driving, with the proper tires and traction devices, as well as having extra food, water and clothing on board. Frequently storms like this can cause multiple vehicle accidents on Lookout, blocking the freeway.
Also, if you didn't cut your Christmas tree when it was snow-free last week, be careful venturing into the forest this weekend. Be mindful of changing road conditions and making sure someone knows your plans since cell coverage is spotty in the mountains.
And if you're planning on playing in the snow be careful. Avalanche forecasters have said that the remaining snow from earlier storms wasn't that deep earlier this week. But they warn slopes could be unstable at higher elevations of heavy snowfall collecting on the earlier layers.
Looking Back at One of Montana's Most Explosive Fires
Gallery Credit: Dennis Bragg