A winter storm dropped freezing rain and around 4 inches of snow on Billings Wednesday morning, creating hazardous driving conditions throughout the region and prompting at least two local school closures.
Temperatures hung in the 30s overnight as moist air began moving through the Billings area, with overnight rain freezing on roadways when an Arctic air system moved into the region Wednesday morning.
Low visibility, slick roads and drifting snow disrupted morning travel in the region, and several wrecks caused temporary road closures throughout the day. Multiple slide-offs were reported in the area. Traffic was backed up in the Billings Heights after a pickup crashed into a traffic control box at the intersection of Main Street and U.S. Highway 87.
Citing poor road conditions, the Billings Police Department also temporarily closed Zimmerman Trail on Wednesday morning before reopening it in the afternoon.
Montana Highway 3 from Harlowton north to Highway 200 was shut down by the state Department of Transportation Wednesday morning, and was reopened at noon. On Interstate 90 just west of Columbus, a pair of semi trucks spun out at around 7:30 a.m., MDT reported, temporarily blocking traffic in the eastbound lanes.
The winter weather prompted at least two local school closures Wednesday. Huntley Project Public Schools announced that all of its schools would be closed, noting on its Facebook page that "drifting is becoming an issue" in the area. Shepherd High School was also closed due to weather conditions.
Around noon, Billings School District 2 announced that a handful of the district's school buses would operate on alternate routes Wednesday and Thursday due to "severe driving conditions."
Whether residential streets in Billings will get plowed anytime soon remains an open question. But speaking Wednesday afternoon, public works director Dave Mumford said it would like take another inch or two to get plows into the side streets.
"We're holding off right now on residential (plowing) to see what happens over the next couple of days," Mumford said. "If we get another couple inches of snow we'll probably move into the residential streets and start moving snow to the side."
Another shot of snow is expected to produce 1 to 3 inches of additional accumulation in Billings beginning late Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service.
Wednesday's snowfall had tapered off by the afternoon, but NWS forecasters expect frigid temperatures to linger into the weekend.
Wind chills at Billings Logan International Airport had dropped into the low single digits by 6:30 a.m. and continued dropping throughout the day. The overnight low is expected to hit zero degrees, with an expected high of 17 degrees Thursday.
Drastic temperature drops were reported throughout the area. Over a 24-hour period, the temperature in Lame Deer had plummeted by 50 degrees as of Wednesday afternoon, according to NWS.
Elsewhere in the region, Wednesday's snowfall totaled up to 7 inches in Roundup, between 4 and 6 inches in Livingston and 4 inches in Hysham, according to Tom Humphrey, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Billings.
Blizzard-like conditions were reported farther east. Heavy snowfall and wind gusts up to 38 miles per hour had reduced visibility to a quarter-mile in Baker by Wednesday afternoon, according to Ted Jamba with the NWS office in Glasgow.
"We were kind of measuring the intensity of things by visibility," Jamba said. That was down to a quarter-mile in Wolf Point by the afternoon, with Glasgow, Glendive and Miles City all reporting half-mile visibility.
"We were kind of caught off-guard with this storm because it wasn't supposed to drop as much snow" in the region, he said.