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Heavy Snow Buries Western Montana, Closing Schools and Hampering Travel

Residents across the valley were digging themselves out after a powerful winter storm buried the valley

Updated 12:30 a.m.

The storm that had buried Northwest Montana in snow on Monday was changing over to freezing rain overnight and some schools have already canceled classes for Tuesday. Bigfork, Cayuse Prairie, Creston, Fair-Mont-Egan, Kila, Somers/Lakeside and Swan River schools had all canceled classes, according to the Flathead County Superintendent of Schools.

Updated 5:30 p.m.

Battered by the one of the biggest two-day snowstorms on record, the Flathead Valley now faces freezing rain in the forecast.

The National Weather Service is warning travelers in Northwest Montana of freezing rain that will create treacherous conditions Monday night and early Tuesday. The combination of heavy snow transitioning to freezing rain and continued very cold roadways will lead to roads that are untreated to quickly become very icy overnight.

By late Monday, almost 20 inches of snow had fallen in Kalispell, the sixth largest total for any two-day stretch on record, according to the National Weather Service. It was the most snowfall over 48 hours since 2009, when almost 24 inches fell in early January.

Over 34 inches of snow covered Columbia Falls, Essex and West Glacier in the last 30 hours, according to the NWS. While Kalispell received up to 1 inch of snow per hour, the region around Glacier National Park was receiving upwards of 2 inches per hour. Another 10 inches is expected through Jan. 6 in the West Glacier area, meteorologists projected.

Creston has received just under 20 inches and Whitefish received 14 inches from Sunday through Monday. Both Troy and Polson received 12 inches.

City road crews worked relentlessly from midnight through Monday afternoon, trying to keep up with the constant wintry deluge while business owners tried to keep their storefronts clear. A half dozen shops in downtown Kalispell closed for the day due to the severe weather, including the ImagineIf library, while schools enjoyed an extended Christmas break, canceling classes from Bigfork to Whitefish. Eagle Transit shut down its buses for the day and were waiting out the storm late Monday.

State highway crews and emergency responders stayed busy responding to downed trees, snow slides and accidents that plagued the region’s roads, including a semitrailer that spun out 5 miles south of Bigfork, blocking a lane of traffic on Montana Highway 35 for almost an hour. Local law enforcement responded to consistent calls of vehicles being stuck or marooned across the valley.

“We’re urging people to use caution and not travel unless they absolutely need to,” Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he added. “Driving conditions continue to deteriorate even though the plows are doing their best to keep up.”

Skiers at Whitefish Mountain Resort enjoyed an abundant powder day on Monday. Roughly 3,600 skiers hit the mountain after 9 inches of fresh snow was reported from the previous night.

“It was a good day,” Resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus said.

Updated: 4 p.m.

Crews have cleared Montana Highway 35 near Bigfork, where a semitruck spun out of control and blocked traffic amid snowy conditions.

The National Weather Service is warning travelers in Northwest Montana of freezing rain that will create treacherous conditions Monday night and early Tuesday. The combination of heavy snow transitioning to freezing rain and continued very cold roadways will lead to roads that are untreated to quickly become very icy overnight, the NWS said.

Updated: 11:45 a.m.

A snow-covered section of Montana Highway 35 south of Woods Bay is blocked after a semitruck spun out amid hazardous driving conditions, causing traffic delays that are expected to last an hour, the Montana Department of Transportation announced.

The wreck occurred roughly 5 miles south of Bigfork, leading to single-lane traffic and reduced speeds. Emergency crews are on scene.

Road conditions are expected to remain hazardous as snow continues to bury Western Montana.

The Kalispell Fire Department is also asking homeowners to clear fire hydrants in their neighborhoods to ensure that emergency crews can locate the hydrants in case of a fire.

“We are asking that you help us help you by keeping the fire hydrant closest to your residence or business clear of snow,” Fire Chief Dave Dedman said in a news release.

Snow should be removed approximately 3 feet away from the hydrant in all directions and a pathway cleared between the hydrant and the nearest roadway, Dedman said.

Updated: 11:25 a.m.

Plow crews are digging through plump white drifts of snow that continue to bury the Flathead Valley, and city officials are asking residents to drive cautiously and avoid parking on main roads.

To allow crews to clear snow berms in downtown streets, the City of Kalispell asked that drivers avoid parking on Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth streets east and Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth streets west. Crews will be clearing the avenues on Tuesday. Drivers are also asked to drive safely around snow plows, which are given the right-of-way while working.

The full fleet of city plow crews across the valley has been working since early Monday to clear local thoroughfares.

Updated: 11 a.m.

A powerful winter storm buried Western Montana on Monday with over 1 foot of snow in most towns, including the Flathead Valley where schools were closed and hazardous road conditions hampered traffic.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the region, predicting consistent snowfall through Tuesday and difficult travel conditions. Meteorologists said heavy snow conditions could occur after temperatures warm into the 30s and very strong westerly winds at ridge-top are expected along the Continental Divide. Blowing and drifting snow could be an issue for Marias Pass and MacDonald Pass.

Residents across the valley were digging themselves out early in the morning after over 10 inches of snow fell in Kalispell and over 12 inches in Whitefish, Bigfork and Columbia Falls, according to the NWS.

One to 2 feet of snow blanketed Glacier National Park, and park officials reported the closure of the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the West Glacier bridge. Stretches of U.S. Highway 2 and the Swan and Seeley Lake areas received almost 2 feet. Hazardous conditions exist along Highway 200 from Bonner to Ovando and Helmville, U.S. Highway 93 towards the Olney area and Lookout Pass on Interstate 90.

A snow slide was reported 2 miles north of Swan Lake, temporarily blocking lanes of traffic on Montana Highway 83 before crews arrived to clear the road, the state Department of Transportation reported.

Crews cleared a large tree that fell across Montana Highway 35 near the Flathead County line, blocking both lanes of traffic for almost half an hour, MDT reported.

“We’re urging people to use caution and not travel unless they absolutely need to,” Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said.

»» Click here for road conditions across Western Montana.

»» Click here for updates from the National Weather Service.

Schools in Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Polson announced closures early Monday. Flathead Valley Community College also announced its closure due to severe weather. Schools in Lincoln County remained in session.

The Flathead Avalanche Center says the avalanche danger is high in the Whitefish, Swan and Flathead ranges and the southern portion of Glacier National Park due to substantial continued snowfall. Natural and human triggered storm and wind slabs are likely, according to experts. Avalanches involving a persistent weak layer 2 to 5 feet deep are possible with this new, rapid load. Avalanches involving this layer could be large and destructive.

CITY                      TEMP, etc.                                            ACCUMULATIONS

Kalispell               15, Snowing                                                       8-10”

Columbia Falls    22, Heavy snowfall                                         12-24”

Essex                    Heavy snowfall                                                 12”

Ferndale               18, Moderate snowfall                                    5-14”

Polson                  Rain–snow mix                                                6-8”

Rollins                  13, Moderate snowfall                                    10-12”

Hot Springs         25, Scattered rain-snow                                8-10”

Happy’s Inn         21, Light to moderate snowfall                    10”

Noxon                  14, Rain-snow mix                                          6-10”

Whitefish             16, Moderate to heavy snowfall                   12”

Eureka                  14, Snowing                                                     6-10”

Libby                     20, Moderate to heavy snowfall                 8-12”

Troy                      24, Rain-snow mix                                         12”

Source: Montana Department of Transportation, 6:30 a.m., Monday

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