Blizzard conditions, heavy snow from Cascades to the Plains

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Another round of snow is hammering parts of the Northwest and Mountain Prairie regions today, and some of it won’t let up until Thursday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue Winter Storm Warnings for portions of northern Idaho and eastern Montana. It’s not unusual for the Cascades and northern Rockies to be buried by big snowfalls in January, much to the delight of skiers and resort owners. But these storms often delay truckers and increase their risk for accidents, even if they’re prepared and complying with chain laws.

Heavy snow will fade today across the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, but roads will remain very slick and dangerous. This morning, the Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center tweeted a message, temporarily banning oversize loads from State Route 20 through Sherman Pass.

In northern Idaho, some of the harshest conditions today will be in the mountains of the central Panhandle along the I-90 corridor through Dobson Pass, Fourth of July Pass, Lookout Pass and the cities of Kellogg, Mullan, Osburn, Pinehurst, and Wallace. Look for additional snowfall of five to 10 inches in the highest elevations, with winds in the mountains gusting to 35 mph. Drivers: please be careful! Blowing snow could make it difficult to see the road or vehicles in front of you in some areas.

Snow will fall in western and central Montana today, lingering tonight. Some of the biggest accumulations (eight to 16 inches) will blanket Battle Ridge Pass, Bozeman Pass, Kings Hill Pass, and Targhee Pass, as well as the cities of Bozeman, Cascade, Great Falls and West Yellowstone. Isolated spots could get more than 16 inches. The Beartooth Mountains, including Cooke City, could get 10 to 15 inches of snow dumped on them, with six to 10 inches in the Beartooth and Red Lodge foothills. There is a potential for an additional six to 12 inches of snow in the high elevations near Helena, as well as over MacDonald Pass and Rogers Pass.

Since early morning, the Montana Department of Transportation has reported several accidents involving semi-trucks, and webcam shots showed treacherous road conditions.

This storm won’t spread much snow into the Great Plains, but winds will become strong this evening from eastern portions of the Dakotas into western Minnesota. Night shift drivers should be aware that blizzard conditions are expected through Thursday morning, and Blizzard Warnings have been posted. Although not much snow will fall, what’s already on the ground will be blowing around and could occasionally reduce visibility to zero. Crosswinds from the north could reach 45 mph and may have truckers rocking in the breeze, especially if they’re deadheading or hauling light loads. Be particularly careful along the I-90 and I-94 corridors. Winds in these areas should drastically die down by Thursday afternoon or early evening.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.