Forecasts for a weekend snowstorm throughout the region continued to change throughout the day Thursday as the National Weather Service in Billings looked to predict a weather event that could produce uneven snowfall totals from Livingston to Ekalaka.
Despite those potential fluctuations, NWS Billings has issued a winter storm watch for the following counties: Yellowstone, southern Wheatland, Musselshell, Rosebud, northern Stillwater, Custer, Treasure, eastern Carbon, Big Horn, Powder River, Carter and Golden Valley.
Further east, NWS Glasgow issued a winter storm watch effective Friday evening through Sunday morning for the following counties: Phillips, Valley, Petroleum, Garfield, McCone and Prairie. Snowfall totals for the storm are estimated to be up to 6 inches, but up to 10 inches could be seen over portions of southwest Phillips County, Petroleum County and western Garfield County.
An updated forecast published around 3 p.m. Thursday showed Billings would likely get snowfall totals between 4 and 6 inches. That same estimate was given for Columbus to the west and Hardin to the east, but showed Roundup receiving up to 8 inches of snow and Red Lodge up to 4 inches.
The potential for 8 inches of snow stretches east from Roundup through Hysham and Forsyth. Miles City's forecast shows a chance for up to 6 inches of snow.
"It's a very complicated situation the way this thing is coming in and that's really the only way to describe it," said Aaron Gilstad, a meteorologist with NWS Billings.
Eyeing the most recent forecast Thursday night, Gilstad said Billings appeared to be on the border of heavier and lighter snowfall totals from the storm system.
"Right now we're kind of on the edge of that heavier snow band," Gilstad said. "That snow band looks to be just east of us to the point that say, Pompey's Pillar, which is just a few miles away, really could end up with more like 6 to 8 (inches) depending on how that sits there."
The location of snow bands in relation to the timing of added moisture arriving in the area are just a few of the factors Gilstad pointed to in explaining factors influencing the volume of snowfall in the area.
Precipitation could begin Friday in the southernmost part of Montana below Billings between late afternoon and early evening. That weather is expected to continue moving north and could hit Billings in the form of rain or snow by about 6 p.m.
Temperatures Friday are expected to top out in the 40s. As the night goes on chances for snowfall will increase, with the best chance for snow after midnight, Gilstad said. Beginning at around midnight snow could fall at a rate of half an inch to an inch every six hours for between 24 and 36 hours, Gilstad said.
Lingering, light snow could persist Sunday. Highs on Saturday and Sunday could reach into the 30s. Monday and Tuesday could see highs in the upper 20s.
Locations affected by the weekend storm include: Billings, Laurel, Huntley, Pompey's Pillar, Custer, Broadview, Roundup, Colstrip, Bighorn, Forsyth, Harlowton, Two Dot, Shawmut, Melstone, Ingomar, Angela, Miles City, Ismay, Volborg, Columbus, Absarokee, Park City, Rapelje, Broadus, Biddle, Powderville, Sonnette, Ekalaka, Alzada, Hammond, Belltower, Lodge Grass, Pryor, Wyola, Bridger, Joliet, Fromberg, Belfry, Warren, Ryegate, Lavina, Hardin, Crow Agency, Busby, Lame Deer, Ashland, Birney, Judith Gap, Burgess Junction, Sheridan, Dayton, Ranchester, Big Horn and Story.