Updated Friday afternoon to add Utah and Idaho.
A powerful snowstorm will plow through several states over the next few days. Since FreightWaves first reported on this Wednesday, the scope and strength of the storm have expanded. Many roads will be dangerous for drivers this weekend from California to Colorado, Montana and the Dakotas. Here’s what to expect in each region.
The heaviest snowfall will hit Montana Saturday through Monday. The West Glacier region, which includes Marias Pass, could see 2 to 5 inches of total snowfall in the valleys, with 5 to 13 inches in the higher elevations. Wind gusts could reach 35 mph.
Places such as Butte, Georgetown Lake, U.S. Highway 12 from Garrison to Elliston, Homestake Pass, MacDonald Pass and Interstate 90 east from Missoula to Bearmouth will likely see 4 to 8 inches in the valleys, with 8 to 14 inches in the mountains.
Heading toward central and northern Montana, conditions get worse. Some areas will get slammed with 12 to 24 inches of total snowfall, with winds exceeding 40 mph. This will create occasional blizzard conditions along portions of I-15, I-90 and U.S. Highway 2 in places like Logan Pass, Heart Butte, Cut Bank, Havre, Great Falls, Lewistown and Glasgow.
The mountains of Idaho will get socked in with heavy snowfall this weekend, too. Totals of 10 to 13 inches are possible in the high elevations around Salmon, Spencer, Stanley and Sun Valley, in addition to Targhee, Lost Trail (U.S. Highway 93), Bannock and Lehmi passes.
This is the first significant snowstorm of the season in the Sierra Nevada, and it will impact drivers on I-80 and U.S. Highway 50 in the region.
The storm will produce periods of light to locally moderate snowfall to the higher elevations of California’s Sierra Nevada Range and Western Plumas county Friday into the weekend. Snowfall above pass levels will fall to 4,000 to 5,000 feet by early Friday night. There may be some lighter precipitation Saturday morning through afternoon, before possible heavier additional snow moves through early Saturday night through Sunday. Mountain travel delays, chain controls and slippery road conditions are possible.
Look for snowfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches above 5,000 feet Friday, with localized amounts of up to 8 inches. Saturday night through Sunday, totals of 3 to 8 inches are likely above 4,000 feet, with localized amounts of up to 12 inches. Drivers on I-80 heading into Nevada may hit several inches of snowfall in the greater Reno-Carson City area.
Farther south, heavy snowfall could slow down drivers in the southern Sierra, from Yosemite to the Lake Isabella area. Weekend snowfall totals of 6 to 12 inches could pile up in places such as Devils Postpile, Florence Lake, Lake Thomas Edison, Fish Camp, Shaver Lake, Camp Nelson and Lodgepole. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph on exposed ridgetops, resulting in blowing snow and reduced visibility.
Periods of heavy snowfall will slam the high elevations of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado from Friday night through next Monday night. Blizzard conditions will be possible along U.S. Highway 550, known as the Million Dollar Highway.
Total snow accumulations of 12 to 24 inches are likely in Telluride, Ouray, Lake City, Silverton, Rico and Hesperus, with locally higher amounts possible. Winds could gust as high as 55 mph at the highest elevations.
The eastern San Juan Mountains, above 10,000 feet, could get hit with 24 to 36 inches of snowfall, with dangerous wind gusts of up to 75 mph over mountain passes.
Heavy snowfall is also possible in Utah this weekend in the western Unita Mountains — where up to 18 inches could accumulate along parts of the Mirror Lake Highway — as well as in the Bryce Canyon area. In the Wasatch Range, up to 14 inches could pile up in Woodruff, Randolph, Alta and Brighton. Blowing snow will limit visibility at times in all of the areas mentioned, which are in the Salt Lake City freight market.
Impact on freight
The number of outbound loads offered to carriers by shippers has increased recently in a few markets in the snowstorm’s path. These include the Billings, Grand Junction and Reno markets, indicated by check marks on the FreightWaves SONAR Outbound Tender Volume Index Weekly Change (OTVIW) map below. They are shaded in blue, indicating positive week-over-week changes.
This means a lot of drivers may be heading to these markets to pick up loads. They will have to get out by Friday evening to make sure they don’t get stuck in the storm.