The first substantial winter storm of the season for the northern Plains will hit this weekend. Truck drivers who can’t avoid the region — or choose not to do so — will run into some heavy snowfall and high winds.
A cold front is on the way from Canada to the north-central states, producing widespread snowfall Friday night from central and northern Montana to northern North Dakota. In some areas, rain will mix with snow at the onset. The snowfall will continue into Saturday.
In Montana, this storm could produce up to 6 inches of snowfall in the mountains around Great Falls, Lewistown, Bozeman, the West Glacier region (U.S. Highway 2), Interstate 90 from Missoula to Bearmouth, and I-15 from Wolf Creek to Butte. Other areas in the potential impact zone include Logan Pass, Heart Butte, Rogers Pass and Marias Pass. The lower elevations in these areas could see up to 3 or 4 inches of snowfall.
This will not be a major, crippling snowstorm, but it will be dangerous for drivers.
“The other thing that could create some travel issues will be the possibility of a flash freeze,” Matt Ludwig, a meteorologist with the NWS in Great Falls, Montana, told FreightWaves. “Precipitation will likely start out as rain before temperatures quickly fall and rain changes to snow.”
This flash freezing could turn snow and slush to ice on some roads.
Ludwig added that this will likely be the first significant accumulating snowfall for the region this season.
Several inches of snowfall will also spread into northeastern Montana, north of Glasgow, as well as Williston and Minot, North Dakota. These spots could see 3 to 6 inches.
Gusty winds will lead to blowing snow and periods of reduced visibility, and the National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a winter storm watch for the region.
Even before the snowfall sets in, high winds will kick up during the day in the plains of Montana. Gust of 60 to 70 mph will elevate the risk for rollovers. This will impact drivers on I-15 from Helena northward to Great Falls and the Canadian border, as well as U.S. Highway 2 from Summit to Cut Bank. Gusts could exceed 70 mph in isolated spots. The NWS has posted a high wind warning for these areas.