A potentially dangerous winter storm system is traveling south from Canada this weekend and will hit Northwest Montana with much colder air, snow and strong north winds, according to the National Weather Service.
The NWS sent out an advisory yesterday warning residents about the sudden change in weather. According to meteorologists, this is a volatile blizzard because of the time of year, how rapid conditions will change and the multitude of issues it presents.
North to northeast winds will be increasing to 20-30 mph sustained with gusts up to 45 mph, primarily across western Montana. Some locations could see gusts in excess of 50 mph, including Bad Rock Canyon in the Columbia Falls area.
Strong north winds across Flathead Lake pose a real concern for boats and docks along the south shore due to large wave action.
Precipitation will begin as rain Sunday afternoon, but quickly turn into snow all the way to the valley floor late Sunday afternoon, as the initial surge of colder air punches through the gaps of the Continental Divide, according to the NWS. These conditions will move rapidly southward across west-central Montana and into north-central Idaho by Sunday evening.
Precipitation will change to all snow with colder temperatures and increasing north to northeast winds overnight Sunday night across the entire area. Monday will be very cold and windy with snow continuing in many areas.
During a press conference on Friday morning, the NWS reported that the storm would bring 6 to 10 inches to Marias Pass and the surrounding mountains and a trace to 3 inches in the Flathead and Mission valleys.
Day-time maximum temperatures will plummet 20-30 degrees on Monday compared to Sunday’s values. The combination of colder temperatures and winds will result in wind chill values in the teens and single digits Sunday night and into Monday morning.
Any persons planning outdoor activities during this period should be prepared for brutally cold conditions for this time of year, according to the NWS.
The duration of sub-freezing temperatures could threaten exposed pipes and sprinkler systems and persons are encouraged to take steps to mitigate this potential. Trees that have not lost their leaves will be more vulnerable to breaking limbs and could potentially cause power outages.
Snow amounts will be highly variable with some valley locations receiving only a trace while higher terrain could see several inches.
According to the NWS, one thing that stands out with this event will be how quickly precipitation will change over to snow and then flash freeze on area roadways as cold air surges in. Even a trace of snow on road surfaces could make for unexpected slick conditions.
Monitor the NWS website for the latest updates.
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