A winter storm on Friday dropped more than 3 inches of snow in the region and is expected to bring more snow and winds through the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
Snow began falling in the Billings area late Friday morning. Winds are expected to create near-blizzard and whiteout conditions east of Billings today and Sunday, said Aaron Gilstad, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
But most of the snowfall is expected to taper off after this morning, Gilstad said.
Billings to Sheridan, Wyo., and into the plains can expect 5 to 10 inches of snow total, he said. Eastern Montana could get 8 to 14 inches. The higher terrains can expect a couple of feet, with as much as 3 feet of snow in the Bighorn Mountains.
The good news, Gilstad said, is that “it’s not going to be real, real cold.” Friday’s high in Billings was 25 degrees, recorded at Billings Logan International Airport. The forecast is in the 20s through the weekend for Billings, while southeastern Montana should be in the upper teens.
“We’ve got that going for us. It’s January snow,” he said.
Sunny skies are expected to return on Monday with a high of 25 degrees for the Billings area.
The storm kept law enforcement and emergency crews busy. The Montana Highway Patrol reported 78 crashes and slide-offs as of 9:30 p.m. in the Billings district, which covers Big Horn, Carbon, Sweet Grass, Stillwater and Yellowstone counties. One crash late Friday morning briefly shut down eastbound traffic on Interstate 90 near Laurel, although no major injuries were reported.
In Billings, police officers responded to eight crashes, but the low number is likely because of the department’s slick-streets policy, Sgt. Neil Lawrence said. Under the policy, officers respond only to wrecks that involve injury, where traffic is blocked or in which a crime has been committed. For all other wrecks, people are encouraged to exchange information, move on and contact police later.
One crash to which officers did respond sent a pair of 14-year-old girls to the hospital with minor injuries after a car slid through a red light at the intersection of Lewis Avenue and 24th Street West and struck them. Lawrence said the car’s driver, 22-year-old Madison Tafoy-Lopez of Billings, was cited for failing to drive in a careful and prudent manner.
The additional snowfall combined with wind will make an already unstable mountain snowpack even more dicey, according to Mark Staples at the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center in Bozeman.
“We’ve been amazed at how sensitive the snowpack has remained, even days after the last storm,” Staples said. “The avalanche danger has been slow going down, it’s had a hard time healing.”
The center’s weather forecast called for 6 to 8 inches of snow by this morning in the West Yellowstone area, 4 to 6 in the mountains around Cooke City and 2 to 4 in the Bridger Range.
On Friday the avalanche danger in the Madison and Gallatin ranges and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone was rated as high on wind-loaded slopes and considerable elsewhere. In the Bridger, Washburn and northern Gallatin ranges and the mountains around Cooke City the danger was rated considerable on wind-loaded slopes and moderate elsewhere. The rating is updated daily.
“The one thing about this storm is the wind will be blowing from several directions,” Staples said. “The wind will build some snowdrifts on the slopes where we usually don’t see them.”