Winter conditions slowly headed for southwest Montana

Wind gusts carry drifted snow out of the shadows and into the last remaining rays of sunlight above the North Summit Snowfield on Lone Peak as the chairlifts close on Christmas Day. Photo by Ben Coulter

The current weather forecast calls for fairly mild conditions throughout the area despite many local wishes to spend this holiday season in the traditional winter wonderland of southwest Montana.

The National Weather Service office in Great Falls predicts consistent cloud cover throughout Madison County over the next week. Wednesday will bring 10 to 15 mph winds from the southwest with possible gusts up to 40. Daytime temperatures should hang around the mid-30s to low 40s, while overnight lows are expected to drop steadily into single digits toward the end of the week.

Current weather patterns are coming from the Pacific Ocean and will typically deposit moisture along the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain Front, said NWS meteorologist Nick Langlieb. By the time this storm cycle hits southwest Montana there is little more than a few clouds, but Langlieb said there is strong potential for snowfall in the mountains over the next week.

The unseasonably warm air temperatures are a result of the jet stream riding across Canada just north of Montana.

“As long as it keeps tracking like that, the cold air is going to stay to the north up in Canada while you have the warmer air to the south,” Langlieb said.

Winter recreationalists remain undeterred by the warmer weather, however, as skiers and snowboarders head for the hills to take advantage of a little extra free time over the Christmas vacation.

Big Sky currently boasts the most snow of any ski resort in the area with 42” at the base. Moonlight Basin reports a base depth of 32”, while Bridger Bowl has seen a total of 55” total inches of snowfall this season with a settled base of 16”. Lost Trail Powder Mountain reports a total of 51” this season with a 36” base at the summit. The NWS forecast reports at least 50 percent chance of precipitation for the Big Sky / Moonlight Basin area every day this week with the possibility of a few inches of snow accumulation each day.

The National Weather Service typically forecasts the weather seven days in advance to give people some idea what to expect. While they have models to predict the weather 10 and even 16 days in advance, the greater window allows for more variables.

“When we start looking that far out there is a lot more uncertainty to what’s going to happen, and it can change a lot,” Langlieb said.
For more information on local weather and storm cycles, visit the National Weather Service website.

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