Montana residents woke up to severe driving conditions on Sunday morning after Mother Nature decided to abruptly change seasons from what felt like summer to conditions more typical in the heart of winter. A flurry of winter weather alerts were issued across the region before the storm’s arrival, including a blizzard warning, warning locals of what was to come.
For a storm to be considered a blizzard, it needs to have heavy or blowing snow, sustained winds of 35 miles per hour or greater, visibility of a quarter of a mile or less and sustain these conditions for at least three hours.
Winter weather advisories (grey), winter storm warnings (blue) and blizzard warnings (pink) were in effect across a wide swath of Montana and southern Canada over the weekend. (AccuWeather)
The storm arrived with dense fog, rain and freezing rain before temperatures plummeted and rain flipped over to sheets of snow. In the span of a few days from Friday to Sunday, temperatures dropped as much as 40 degrees F into the teens and 20s.
Strong winds made it feel even colder with AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures much lower than the actual temperature.
McAllister, Montana, clocked one of the highest wind gusts on Sunday morning when winds reached 71 mph, nearly as high as winds found in a hurricane.
The weather system began dropping snow across areas farther west, including across high elevations of Washington, Oregon and Northern California on Friday. The storm continued to intensify as it shifted farther east on Saturday, resulting in increasingly strong wind gusts, as well as the development of heavy snow across Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana into the southern Canadian Prairies.
By Saturday night, conditions across northern Montana rapidly deteriorated as snow and gusty winds continued to intensify. MDT Road Report reported severe driving conditions along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains as well as portions of Interstate 15. The high winds combined with the snow made visibility near zero at times across Interstates 15, 90 and 94.
Car crashes backed up traffic on Interstate 15 north of Power, Montana, on Sunday morning, according to KRTV.
The Montana Department of Transportation reported on Sunday morning that U.S. Highway 191 from Harlowton to Eddie’s Corner was closed as of 12:34 a.m., Sunday due to blowing and drifting snow that created “zero visibility.”
See all those red dashed lines? @mdtroadreport has essentially rated the ENTIRE Rocky Mountain Front area as “Severe Driving Conditions”, along with increasing stretches of I-15 north of Great Falls. Please, DO NOT travel unless it is an emergency situation! #MTwx pic.twitter.com/ytE8ON3b6X
— NWS Great Falls (@NWSGreatFalls) November 8, 2020
Six inches of snow was on the ground at the National Weather Service Office on Gore Hill in Montana on Sunday morning, but the storm, which was expected to continue through Sunday night, was just getting started.
A large area of 6-12 inches of snow was expected, but some locations received over a foot by midday Sunday. As much as 14 inches piled up southeast of Lewistown, Montana, with AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures between minus 10 and minus 20 F.
By Sunday evening, up to 16 inches of snow was reported in parts of the state, and the National Weather Service warned that some areas could end up receiving up to two feet of snow as the blizzard conditions progress into Monday.
As much as 16 inches of snow has already fallen over Montana with the ongoing winter storm. Storm totals could top 2 feet, as heavy snow and blizzard conditions continue into Monday morning over north central Montana. Travel conditions will remain treacherous into Monday. pic.twitter.com/At1yXufxm4
— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) November 9, 2020
Power outages began to mount past 12,000 in Montana on Sunday morning as the snowstorm progressed, but by Sunday evening had decreased to only about 6,900, according to PowerOutage.us.
Schools began announcing delays and cancelations on Sunday as the weather progressively worsened.
Some residents in Park City Mountain, Utah, were happy to wake up to a coating of snow covering the mountain.
“This new stretch of snow and cold temperatures will help make for great early season skiing and snowboarding,” Park City Mountain Communications Manager Jessica Miller told AccuWeather.
By Sunday night, the storm will shift farther north into Canada. As it departs, snow will taper off and winds will diminish.
With clearing skies, lighter winds and fresh snow on the ground, lows will plummet into the single digits and teens.
Temperature are forecast to remain below normal through early next week, with the winterlike cold also plunging through the desert Southwest. The next chance for snow will arrive with another storm system on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
This next system will be much weaker though, and at this time, snow amounts with that system are expected to be no more than a few inches outside of a few mountain slopes that typically see heavier snow.
Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.