HELENA — Unstable weather conditions hampered travel in Montana on Tuesday, a situation that forecasters warn may worsen as warmer temperatures and rain melt the record snow dumped on parts of the state and threaten flooding, ice jams and more avalanches.
A SkyWest Airlines jet headed for Salt Lake City slid off the runway at Missoula International Airport as it was taxiing for takeoff Tuesday morning. None of the 44 passengers and three crew members was injured, and the plane was able depart later in the morning.
Interstate 90 reopened between St. Regis and the Idaho line Tuesday afternoon after being closed for a day because of the avalanche threat in the mountains above.
Montana Department of Transportation officials detonated charges along the more dangerous mountainsides, but no snow came down as a result, transportation spokeswoman Brandi Hamilton said.
The agency completed an assessment and deemed the roadway safe, she said.
The avalanche danger was high Tuesday in parts of the Missoula foothills, where a slide Friday buried three people. A 68-year-old woman died Sunday of her injuries from that slide.
The rain falling in Missoula will further weaken the snowpack, said Steve Karkanen, director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center.
“We’re concerned with rain coming in on top of an already unstable snowpack. It will add a lot of weight to it and impact an already sketchy situation,” he said.
More than 40 inches of snow fell in Missoula in February, the most for that month since record keeping began in 1892, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Bernhardt. Billings also set a February record with 37 inches, while Helena received 26 1/2 inches, which is five times the average, he said.
With high temperatures forecast to be in the 30s and 40s this week, all that snow will begin to melt. That could lead to areas of flooding in Helena and west of the Continental Divide because of poor drainage, plus the risk of ice jams causing southern Montana and northern Wyoming waterways to flood, Bernhardt said.
“It could get to be a messy situation,” he said.
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks closed the York’s Islands fishing access site along the Missouri River because of flooding from ice jams and warned of similar flooding at spots along the Madison and Yellowstone rivers.
The rain is expected to last until Thursday, the weather service said.
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