Heavy snow across western Montana brought traffic to a crawl and closed several schools while blizzard conditions prompted the closure of Interstate 90 east of Livingston on Tuesday.
Warmer weather replaced a week of subzero temperatures, but it also delivered the season’s first widespread snowfall, including 16 inches in areas of Polson and 11 inches at St. Ignatius.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Kitsmiller said Kalispell received between 6 and 9 inches of snow, Missoula 4 to 6 inches and up to 7 inches in Thompson Falls.
By contrast, snow totals in the Bitterroot Valley were less than an inch.
“Some of the better totals were up around Polson,” Kitsmiller said. “Their schools ended up being closed.”
Classes were canceled in Polson and Charlo, and at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo. Schools also were closed in St. Regis and West Glacier. While schools remained open in Ronan, two bus routes were canceled and others ran late. Frenchtown schools closed Tuesday due to the failure of a boiler.
“We closed due to the snow,” said Pam Owen, business manager and Polson Public Schools. “We’ve got a little more than a foot of snow right now. The plows hadn’t gotten out to our rural areas.”
Even as temperatures moderated on Tuesday, the phones at 4G Plumbing and Heating continued to ring off the hook, where dispatcher Nellie Beck filled 37 tickets, most of them emergencies.
A normal winter day might see 10 to 15 calls, Beck said. Callers reported no heat or frozen pipes, giving crews little time to respond.
“Everyone calls because it’s an emergency, but you can only do so many in a day,” said Beck. “Our crews have been working longer hours. We’ve had a very, very busy day.”
The winter weather advisory issued Tuesday covered much of western Montana and stretched across the Continental Divide into pockets of central Montana.
Areas near Livingston saw wind gusts of 50 miles per hour. The conditions, combined with blowing snow, prompted the closure of Interstate 90 for a portion of the day.
Roads in western Montana were snowpacked and icy, though no closures were reported.
Kitsmiller said another batch of winter weather could hit by the weekend, packing wetter snow. Temperatures will continue to warm, topping 35 by the weekend.
“We don’t see anything too big out there,” Kitsmiller said of the near-term forecast. “Possibly out toward next week that may change. The models are talking about bringing in more cold air, but it’s too soon to say.”