A combination of rapidly rising temperatures, recent heavy snow and wind, and now rain, is prompting forecasters to warn of "very dangerous" avalanche conditions in Western Montana. 

While there have been no slides that have trapped anyone yet, avalanche experts are warning there's a very real risk right now of "human-caused" slides.

After a few weeks of cold and heavy snow, conditions had been relatively stable before Christmas. But that began to change rapidly over the weekend as warmer weather began to push into the region.

The West Central Montana Avalanche forecasters say the rapid changes, which included more heavy snow at the higher elevations, "stressed the snowpack", increasing the snow load on the layers of weaker snow underneath.

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The first warning was issued over the weekend

By Tuesday morning the National Weather Service reported the avalanche warning was being extended into Wednesday morning. That includes Missoula, Mineral, Powell, and Ravalli Counties, and covers such popular recreation destinations as the Bitterroot Mountains, the Rattlesnake, Mission Mountains, and the Swan Valley. 

"Wet snow, rain, and temperatures above freezing have created very dangerous avalanche conditions," forecasters noted in their bulletin. "The hazard will continue to rise today with ongoing precipitation. Very large and destructive natural and human-triggered avalanches are likely today. Traveling in or under avalanche terrain is not recommended."

Slide risk on all terrain now

The risk remains "high" in not only the upper elevations but the middle and lower elevations as well. 

Meanwhile, the Flathead Avalanche Center has also extended the avalanche warnings for Northwest Montana. Forecasters call the backcountry conditions in the Whitefish Range "wet, windy, and very dangerous." That assessment also includes the Swan Range, the Flathead Range, and Glacier National Park.  

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