A winter storm warning for the Butte and Anaconda area expired Tuesday at 11 a.m. — but it certainly didn't mean the cold, snowy weather is over.
According to the National Weather Service offices in both Missoula and Great Falls, snow and frigid wind-chill values are expected to continue across southwest Montana through the weekend. The region could see an additional 1 to 3 inches of snowfall Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, each day, along with wind-chill values 20 to 40 below zero.
Dave Noble, a National Weather Service meteorologist working in the Missoula office, said 12 inches of snow about a mile northwest of Butte was reported to his office on Tuesday morning by a local citizen. Monday morning, another local citizen reported 11 inches had fallen in Butte, and Monday at noon a snow observer reported 12 inches had fallen in Anaconda. Tuesday morning, Noble’s office received a snowfall report of 9.5 inches for the Anaconda area.
Tuesday afternoon, the Missoula office said it believes 9 to 13 inches of snow have fallen in Butte over the past 24 hours and it does not have a concrete total for Anaconda, though the office has heard talk that more than a foot of snow may have fallen.
Paul Nutter, a National Weather Service meteorologist working in the Great Falls office, provided similar snowfall forecast numbers, saying southwest Montana can expect 1 to 3 inches in the valleys and 4 to 8 inches in the mountains each day over the next few days.
Nutter’s office specifically oversees the eastern portion of southwest Montana, including Homestake Pass, Beaverhead County, Madison County and Gallatin County. Nutter said the winter storm warnings for these three counties were extended to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and a special weather statement was issued for the counties at 12:16 p.m.
The special weather statement is for a fairly major storm moving through southern Madison County, southeastern Beaverhead County and central Gallatin County, reported to be dumping 2 to 3 inches of snow every hour.
As a result of the storm, the Montana Department of Transportation road report showed severe driving conditions in a section of I-15 above Dillon. These conditions included blowing snow and low visibility.
According to Jeff Ebert, Butte district administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation, this storm has brought on treacherous driving conditions to Interstate 15 north and south of Dillon.
I-15 south of Dillon remained closed Tuesday as a result of the Monday night closure of Monida Pass.
“The last major town before the pass is Lima and to dump all of the thru traffic on them is tough. That’s why we chose to get people off the road at Dillon," Ebert explained Tuesday morning.
But by Tuesday afternoon, the city of Dillon began to feel the strain of accommodating stranded travelers and had to take action. At 6 p.m. on Tuesday night, the American Red Cross opened up a shelter in the University of Montana Western’s Keltz Arena to house anyone stranded in Dillon due to weather, officials said.
“It’s a place for people to spend the night and we are working on rounding up food and snacks,” said Shawn Gardner, a deputy officer for the American Red Cross.
According to Gardner and Dillon Police Chief Don Guiberson, many people have been stranded in Dillon as a result of Interstate 15 and Monida Pass closing south of the city. On Monday night, city and county officials noticed people sleeping in their vehicles, Guiberson said, and on Tuesday hotels began to reach capacity, triggering the decision to open a shelter in the Keltz Arena.
“Most people stranded seem to be truck drivers waiting it (the closures) out, but there’s really no other way around this,” Guiberson said. “Keltz Arena may not be the perfect place for a shelter, but it’s definitely a good place to be.”
Guiberson said he has been working closely with Beaverhead County Sheriff Paul Craft, along with local and county officials, to open the shelter and ensure the safety of everyone who has been affected by the storm. Just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, Guiberson described Dillon as a “big, huge marshmallow.”
“There’s just a lot of snow,” Guiberson said. “The interstate is awful and our officers have been running around like crazy making sure people are getting around safely.”
Guiberson also said Dillon locals have stepped up to help with the snowy weather and stranded travelers, opening up their private lots for semi-truck parking and helping plow areas of the city with four-wheelers and other heavy equipment.
“If you have to be stuck somewhere, this is the place to be because the people here look out for each other,” Guiberson said.
However, Guiberson also urged travelers headed toward Dillon and Monida Pass to stop in Butte, as the Mining City is able to offer more services.
The shelter plans to stay open until Interstate 15 and Monida Pass reopen, Guiberson said.
As for the rest of southwest Montana, Ebert said Tuesday morning that his office isn’t looking to make any other closures.
“Mother Nature is probably the biggest issue to deal with out there right now,” Ebert said, referring to blowing snow and low visibility across the region. “If you don’t need to get out on the roads, don’t. If you do, take extra supplies like food and water with you in case you do get stranded.”
Although there are no road closures in Madison County, there is also a flood warning in effect near Ennis and Montana Highway 287.
Joe Brummell, Madison County’s fire warden and director of emergency management, said Tuesday morning that he and Ennis law enforcement are monitoring an ice jam on the Madison River along Montana Highway 287 near Ennis. In fact, Brummell said, the jam is so close to Ennis that you could “almost stand on the edge of town and hit it with a football."
Flooding from the ice jam had not spilled onto MT-287 as of Tuesday at 10 a.m., Brummell said, but ice from the jam has blown over onto the highway, creating icy driving conditions.
“There are no closures right now, but the DOT (Montana Department of Transportation) has warning signs in the area,” Brummell said. “It’s pretty much a whiteout over here. If people don’t have to be out on the roads, they shouldn’t be.”
Noble and Nutter echoed similar thoughts to Brummell, noting that drivers will see various road conditions across the region over the next few days and that wind-chill values could bring dangerous air temperatures.
According to Noble, the Butte area will see single digits above and below zero Tuesday into Wednesday and could see wind-chill values down to 16 below zero. The coldest wind-chill value in the region was recorded at 7 a.m. Tuesday over MacDonald Pass at 42 below zero, Noble said. Wind-chill values near Deer Lodge, Garrison and Homestake Pass Tuesday could sit near 20 below.
Things should start to warm up in the Butte and Anaconda area on Thursday, but temperatures will drop again Friday and Saturday as cold air from Canada moves in, Noble said. The air is expected to bring wind-chill values down to 40 below zero along the Continental Divide over the weekend.
“With wind chills 20 to 30 below zero, it’s possible to get frost bite within 30 minutes,” Noble said, urging people to take these numbers into consideration before going outside. “If you’re in the mountains today or over the weekend, with wind chills 30 to 40 below, you could get frost bite in as little as 10 minutes.”
A continually updated map of road conditions can be found on the Montana Department of Transportation website.
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