HELENA – A winter storm warning is in effect for much of Montana, calling for significant snowfall followed by dangerously cold temperatures as 2017 comes to an end.
Pacific moisture will move into the state from the west at the same time an arctic air mass moves south from Canada, creating a “meteorologically beautiful” and “likely quite crippling” storm along the Continental Divide north of Helena late Friday afternoon and Saturday, the National Weather Service said.
Snowfall amounts of up to a foot are expected along the Rocky Mountain Front and the central plains of Montana, with higher amounts in the mountains. Lookout Pass along the Montana-Idaho border could see up to 4 feet of snow by Saturday, creating difficult traveling conditions, the weather service said.
MacDonald, Rogers and Marias passes along the Continental Divide will likely see up to 18 inchesof snow between Thursday and Sunday.
“The amount of snowfall will make travel difficult, but I think it will be manageable enough that most of the road crews will be able to keep up,” said meteorologist Jim Brusda. However, some roads in the Billings area may become impassable due to strong winds, he said.
Libby in northwestern Montana and Essex, on the southern end of Glacier National Park, could see up to 2 feet of snow. Gusting winds could create dangerous wind chill temperatures, the weather service said.
Brusda and Billings forecaster Dan Borsum suggested that if people have something they need to get done for the weekend, they best get it done by Friday.
“I think folks are going to find things more and more challenging with each progressing 12-hour period,” Borsum told the Billings Gazette.
After the moisture moves through, north-central Montana will see temperatures fall to between 20 and 30 below Sunday and Monday mornings. Wind chill temperatures will be lower.
“People like to think of themselves as being prepared for the weather and things like that,” Borsum said, “but this one will get your attention.”
Residents in extreme southwestern and extreme northeastern Montana will see up to 2 inches of snow, Brusda said.