Winter returned to northwest Montana with plunging temperatures, power outages and treacherous driving conditions, including a fatal wreck in the Bitterroot Valley on Friday.
Meteorologist Trent Smith with the National Weather Service said Friday’s snow is all that the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys are likely to see until late Sunday, when another arctic front could roll into the area.
More than six inches of snow landed at the NWS office near the Missoula airport on Friday. Smith said the Bitterroot Valley saw another inch or two more than that.
Warm Thursday weather that dropped into the teens overnight with an overlay of snow made for slick driving conditions during the morning.
A series of crashes along U.S. Highway 93 south of Missoula slowed commuters to at times a standstill Friday. The Montana Highway Patrol reported a fatal crash just south of Victor around 11 a.m.
According to Sgt. Scott Bennett, one of two vehicles — a truck and an SUV — crossed the center line and hit the other head on. A third car was sideswiped during the incident, but its driver was uninjured. The 74-year-old driver of the SUV was killed, and the 48-year-old driver of the truck was taken to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.
Smith said western Montana will wake up to frigid temperatures in the single digits on Saturday, although no new snow accumulation is in the forecast. The weather will warm up slightly on Sunday to just above freezing during the day before an arctic front bringing cold temperatures and likely more snow will hit the area late in the day.
The combination of slightly warmer weather during the day followed by cold overnight lows leading into Monday could create a similar hazardous commute.
“Monday morning commuters are likely to see some similar conditions to what we had today,” Smith said.
The Flathead Valley saw temperatures fall more than 30 degrees on Thursday afternoon as sustained winds between 30 and 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 53 mph brought the arctic front into the area.
The wind knocked out power to about 4,000 Flathead Electric Cooperative customers in the Libby, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Swan Lake areas.
The Bearmouth Frontage Road was covered by a rockslide on Thursday afternoon, with the Department of Transportation still listing the road as closed by Friday afternoon.