After a burst of daytime snowfall melted and then froze after sunset, Montana Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched to four reported crashes on a 1.3-mile stretch of Highway 312 near Huntley in an hour-and-half's time Wednesday night.
"It's basically just pure ice out there," said Shepherd Volunteer Fire Chief Phil Ehlers, adding that people should allow more time to slow and stop ahead of traffic.
"Just because you've got four-wheel drive, doesn't mean you've got four-wheel stop," he said.
Wednesday's short bursts of snow could be the prelude to a weather system with the potential to drop between 6 inches and a foot of snow over Billings from Saturday through Monday, according to the National Weather Service in Billings.
MHP Trooper Kirk Robbins advised people to take a rain check on nonessential travel in the area.
"It's pretty slick out here east of town on 312," Robbins said, describing some parts of the road as completely covered in ice.
The Montana Department of Transportation's road conditions map described 312 as covered in scattered snow and ice.
The four crashes reported between 5:30 p.m. and 7:10 p.m. were:
- A crash without injury in the area of Highway 312 and Shepherd Road around 5:30 p.m.
- A crash with injury on Highway 312 near Vermilion Road at about 6:40 p.m.
- A crash without injury on Highway 312 near Vermilion Road at about 6:44 p.m.
- A crash with injury was reported at Highway 312 and Nahmis Avenue at about 7:10 p.m.
The 6:40 crash near Vermilion Road sent one man to the hospital with injuries that did not appear life-threatening, Robbins said.
The man had been driving his SUV eastbound on Highway 312 when he lost control trying to avoid a car turning down a driveway. In trying to avoid hitting the turning car, he apparently swerved and crossed over into oncoming traffic, Robbins said.
A minivan struck the SUV on its passenger side.
The original weather system that dropped snow over parts of south-central and southeastern Montana produced yet another burst of precipitation early Wednesday night in Billings.
Though short-lived, snowfall was heavy enough to reduce visibility in some areas to less than a mile, said Todd Chambers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings.
Road conditions like those seen near Huntley and Shepherd were possible for parts of central and south-central Montana from Harlowton to Miles City, Chambers said.
People should begin taking a look at their weekend travel plans in light of the potential for prolonged snowfall beginning Saturday, Chambers said. People leaving Billings on Saturday could have difficulty making it back Sunday, he said.
"The system we had back toward Christmas would be similar, where we just had that continuous snow for several days," Chambers said. "There's still time for that to change but for folks that have travel plans this weekend they should be aware that we're going to have those periods of snow and difficult travel conditions."