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Yellowstone aerial

The Yellowstone River winds past Riverfront Park and downtown Billings in this recent aerial view. The wet snow forecast will fall onto trees still carrying much of their summer foliage. That has the potential to snap branches and bring down trees.

The salt and sand are ready, and Billings' street maintenance crews have been put on call for the next few days. 

Snow is coming with an unseasonably bitter cold snap, and the city hopes it's prepared. 

"The first one is always the hardest," David Mumford, director of public works, said of each year's first big snow. "Everybody's as ready as they can be."

The biggest concern for street maintenance crews will be slick roads and downed branches and trees possibly blocking streets. The storm is forecast to arrive first as rain before transitioning to snow early Wednesday morning as the temperature drops.

The rainwater and subsequent slush and snow are expected to freeze, leaving Billings streets coated with ice by mid-morning. As snow continues to fall through Wednesday night and into Thursday, the icy streets will likely get worse, Mumford said. 

At the beginning of the week, Mumford had the city's road sand and salt gathered, ready to be spread Wednesday on streets and at intersections. 

The wet snow forecast for Wednesday morning will fall onto trees still carrying much of their summer foliage. The extra weight of the leaves increases the potential for branches to snap and trees to be downed, depending on how wet the snow is and how much falls.

As a result, Mumford said his crews initially will be focused on clearing debris from roads and keeping them passable. Plow crews are on call but Mumford said their primary focus Wednesday morning will be first on sanding and salting, and keeping branches and trees out of the road. 

Much of what they do will depend on what actually happens with the weather, he said. That includes looking toward the weekend and early next week, and the forecast highs of temperatures in the 50s. 

The Billings office of the Montana Department of Transportation will transition to winter hours for the duration of the storm. MDT maintains Laurel Road, Montana Avenue, North and South 27th Street, which is Highway 3, and Main Street, which is Highway 87. 

Under MDT's winter hours the first shift of the day starts at 4 a.m. and the last shift ends at 10:30 p.m. Typically the office doesn't transition to winter hours until November, a MDT spokeswoman said. She added that the office will likely return to normal hours after the storm. 

Local NorthWestern Energy crews have been gearing up as well. Workers have been preparing equipment this week so that it's ready. The company has also increased staffing among its repair crews and call center employees. 

Whether residents experience a power outage or see a downed line in front of their home or in the alleyway behind, they should contact NorthWestern, said spokeswoman Jo Dee Black. 

"We need people to call," she said. 

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