Winter weather hits southwest Montana region

Travel conditions around Madison County and southwest Montana were limited last week after a severe winter storm rolled into the region on Thursday, blanketing the area with snow and closing schools in Harrison and Twin Bridges on Friday.

While the Natural Resource Conservation Service weather station in Bozeman only reported a little over four inches from the storm, snow accumulation throughout the region varied due to high winds. The weather station at Albro Lake in the Tobacco Root Mountains recorded over 15” from the storm cycle, said warning coordination meteorologist Chris Foltz with the National Weather Service forecast office in Great Falls.

Foltz explained that the recent storm system originated over the Pacific Ocean before moving across the Pacific Northwest and into Montana early last week. The weather was a result of two cold fronts, one that arrived with the initial storm system from the Pacific and another artic front that arrived later in the day on Thursday, he said.

“The first cold front went through on Wednesday night, which kind of set the stage with the colder air in place so when the precipitation began it was pretty much snow,” said Foltz. “Then the much colder air came in late on Thursday and into Friday when we really had the coldest air from this particular system.”

Because of limited visibility, road crews in Twin Bridges were not able to get out until Friday and Saturday, said District 2 foreman Shane Escott. School bus routes are typically the top priority for snowplows, followed by higher traffic roads and outlying areas after that. It was difficult to judge how much snow accumulated at the lower elevations because high winds caused significant snowdrifts to form.

“We got enough to create a lot of problems on most of our roads,” Escott said. “It’s hard to say because none of it came straight down.”

The District 2 road crews operate three road graders, two pickup trucks with snowplows and sanders to keep the roads clear, as well as a bulldozer when the conditions call for it. Crews work to clear as much snow as they can before putting down a mixture of sand and salt on icy roadways in high traffic areas. Escott advised motorists to use caution when travelling in winter conditions as well as stay home and wait for roads and weather conditions to clear unless, of course, there is an emergency.

Foltz said the regional weather forecast calls for warmer temperatures with highs near 40 degrees over the next week.

“We’ll get a storm system like this, but then after we’ll get what is called a ridge of high pressure build into the area, which promotes warmer temperatures and calmer conditions,” said Foltz.

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