Buried: Old Man Winter Rings in the New Year

By Beacon Staff

A fierce winter storm smacked the Flathead Valley Thursday night and early Friday morning with high winds and as much as 16 inches of snow in some areas, creating hazardous conditions on area roads.

As of 9 a.m., Flathead County issued an emergency travel only warning for all county-owned roads. The county road department is aggressively plowing county roads, according to a press release from the sheriff’s department, but until the storm breaks area residents are asked not to travel.

The Kalispell Police Department also recommends that travel within the city be limited to essential travel only.

The Kalispell area office of the Montana Department of Transportation had not issued any state road closures as of 9 a.m., but local citizens reported snow accumulation on area highways up to 8 inches and blowing snow. For updates on state road closures, go to http://www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo/.

The National Weather Service in Missoula issued a winter storm warning for the Kalispell area around 9 a.m. According to the warning, a strong frontal system will be passing through the Idaho panhandle and northwest Montana Friday morning, and then through west central Montana during the late morning and early afternoon.

Heavy snowfall will continue in many areas, according to the NWS, especially across northwest Montana and over mountain passes. Snow accumulations of 3 to 5 inches are expected today, with total storm accumulations in the Flathead Valley, including the cities of Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, reaching 8 to 12 inches. Northeast winds of 15 to 25 mph will create areas of blowing and drifting snow, dropping visibility to about one-quarter mile.

Areas south of the Flathead Valley, according to the warning, will experience either rain or lighter snow accumulations in the 1 to 3 inch range today.

Glacier National Airport closed their runways around 7:30 a.m., according to the NWS, in the face of about an inch of new snow per hour. The airport had 24 accumulated inches of snow on the ground as of 5 a.m.

Other snow accumulations throughout the area included almost 7 inches in Marion as of 7 a.m.; 8 inches in Whitefish at 8 a.m. and an overall snow depth of 27 inches; and 16 inches of fresh in the Bigfork area. Heavy snow is still falling throughout the region.

“Overall, it will continue through the day and start to taper off overnight,” Bridget De Rosa, a hydrometeorological technician with the Missoula NWS. “There should be scattered showers by morning and through tomorrow.”

A reader took this photo of a city truck stuck in the snow on Fifth Street East. – Courtesy of Amy Kellogg