Snowstorms will make freight movement a bit tricky this weekend in parts of the western U.S. Snow should not come as a big surprise since it’s late December, but truckers certainly need to be prepared if they have to drive through New Mexico, the Cascades, the northern Rockies, and Wyoming.
Heavy snow has been falling since Thursday night across the southern Rockies of New Mexico, with 12- to 20-inch totals expected for the highest elevations south of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as their adjacent high plains. The snow won’t let up in many of these areas until late tonight (Friday), along with blowing snow and white-out conditions due to wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph. Road closures can’t be ruled out along portions of I-25 and I-40.
Bitterly cold wind chills of 15 degrees below zero to 15 degrees above zero will make it dangerous to be outside Saturday morning. Drivers will have to dress in layers and make sure the heaters in their cabs are in excellent working condition. Winter Storm Warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service for most of New Mexico.
Another winter storm will hit the northern Rockies late today and tonight, fading by midday Saturday. This one won’t be as powerful as the New Mexico storm, but up to four inches of snow could pile up across eastern Washington, including Spokane, and the Idaho Panhandle. Winds of 35 mph will limit visibility because of blowing and drifting snow. A stronger storm could drop heavier snow in many of these areas from Saturday night through Sunday, especially along the Continental Divide in Montana where crosswinds of 65 to 80 mph will cause white-out conditions. Deadheading and hauling light loads will be virtually impossible on I-15 and I-90. Drivers probably won’t be able to get over the following mountain passes, some of which could be closed.
Idaho: Fourth of July summit (I-90), Dobson Pass (Dobson Pass Road)
Montana: Logan Pass (Going-to-the-Sun Road, usually closed in winter), Lost Trail Pass (US-93), MacDonald Pass (US-12), Marias Pass (US-2), and Rogers Pass (SR-200)
Washington: Disautel Pass (SR-155), Lookout Pass at Idaho border (I-90), Sherman Pass (SR-20)
Finally, Wyoming will be another problem area this weekend, with more winter weather affecting travel on I-25 and I-80. Snow will develop on Saturday across the far western part of the Cowboy State. The snow will become heavy at times, but should fade Sunday night. Up to 10 inches could fall in the Tetons by midnight Sunday night, with around four to seven inches elsewhere. Exposed areas will likely see considerable blowing and drifting snow, so truckers should be extra careful and take breaks during periods of poor visibility.
After the snow ends, some of the coldest air of the season will likely arrive with high temperatures struggling to get above 15 degrees on Monday, along with wind chills of five to 10 degrees below zero. Drivers who don’t use enough winter fuel additive will be delayed by fuel gelling of their diesel. To make matters worse, batteries with low CCA values will have a hard time starting.
Snow will also develop Sunday afternoon through Sunday night across Central Wyoming, east of the Continental Divide, and in Sweetwater County. Two to four inches of snow could fall at the lower elevations, with four to eight inches in the mountains. Expect considerable blowing and drifting snow and bitterly cold wind chills in these areas, too.
Have a safe weekend, and please drive carefully. Truckers can check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving.