Billings could see up to an inch of rain through Saturday from the current storm system, which has already dropped up to half a foot of snow in mountainous areas to the west.

The heaviest snowfall in south-central Montana is expected in areas above 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, said Wright Dobbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Billings.

"So far, we've already had about 5 to 6 inches from the stuff that came overnight," Dobbs said, adding that an additional 12 to 15 inches of snow could fall in high-elevation areas.

Red Lodge, Nye and other foothills locations could get 1 to 3 inches of wetter snow during the heaviest period of accumulation, beginning tonight and tapering off after daybreak Friday.

No snow is expected to fall in Billings, although some flurries could be mixed in with rain overnight Friday and Saturday morning.

Last week, a long-awaited system of cooler, wet weather brought record-breaking precipitation to the Billings area, dumping 1.9 inches during a three-day period. The single-day rainfall record for Sept. 15, set in 1965 when 0.64 inches fell, was broken when 1.22 inches fell over the same 24-hour period last week.

High temperatures will likely remain in the 40s Friday and Saturday, before gradually warming up into next week. By the following weekend, temperatures could climb back up into the upper 70s, Dobbs said.

While September precipitation was already 35 percent above normal in Billings by Wednesday, he warned that doesn't mean fire season is over — particularly in drought-stricken Eastern Montana.

"Before we got all this precipitation, we were still pretty dry across the area," Dobbs said. " ... With the warm-up coming in the next 14 days, we definitely can't say fire season is over yet, but it's definitely slowed down."

This week's rain storms will also have a much lighter touch on areas north and east of Billings, he added, with Forsyth expected to receive no more than one-tenth of an inch of rain.

The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Sept. 21 shows a slight improvement in drought conditions in Montana, compared with last week. But more than 42 percent of the state, in the north-central and eastern regions, remains in either exceptional or extreme drought. Those are the two most drastic grades the Drought Monitor issues.

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Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.