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Sunshine on St. Mary's Peak Road

The sun was shining this week above the valley inversion on St. Mary's Peak Road. The Bitterroot National Forest is reporting that conditions on Forest Service roads are mixed. The deepest snow is south of Hamilton on the West Fork Ranger District, with about 8 inches near the Baker Lake Vista. Road conditions entering the Bass Creek recreation complex are extremely icy.

That bright round orb in the sky that momentarily made its presence known for the first time in a long time in Missoula on Thursday and the Bitterroot Valley on Friday is expected to return in coming days as the inversion that's gripped the valley is blown out.

But first, snow.

“We have a pretty good cold front making its way into the area as we speak,” Trent Smith with the National Weather Service said Friday afternoon. “Right now, there’s moderate snow falling from Lookout Pass up to Kalispell, and all that will be shifting to the south. I’m anticipating that most areas will get a burst of snow, along with a cold front.”

A winter weather advisory went into effect in the Missoula, Bitterroot and Blackfoot regions from 5 p.m. Friday until 11 a.m. Saturday. The National Weather Service called for snow accumulations of 2 inches to 4 inches, with localized amounts up to 15 inches, causing slippery roads and reduced visibilities at times.

Specific areas of concern are the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys, Highway 200 East from Bonner to Greenough, Highway 83 from Seeley Lake to Condon, and Interstate 90 from East Missoula to Bearmouth.

Beyond that, the forecast leaves open the possibility of a white Christmas, Smith said. He anticipated that the inversion that’s been trapping ground fog and cold temperatures will be pushed out by an “active weather pattern” for the next several days.

Saturday’s forecast in the Bitterroot called for a 40 percent chance of snow showers, then turning partly sunny later in the day. Sunday will bring a 20 percent chance of snow, which is bumped up to a 50 percent chance by Sunday night. In Missoula the Sunday percentages are 30 and 60.

While the weekend highs will be in the high 20s to low 30s, throughout next week they range from highs near or at 40 on Tuesday to only 25 degrees in the Bitterroot and 23 in Missoula by Thursday. That means that anticipated precipitation could come in the form of rain, snow, or a mix of both.

“That Sunday night system should give us a couple inches of snow in the higher elevations, but I’m not sure what will happen in the valley areas,” Smith said. “Then we’ll be watching for a bigger system for the middle part of next week. On Wednesday, we could get some pretty good snow.”

With no significant warmup in the forecast and only nine days until Christmas, any snow that falls has a good chance of sticking around.

Or not.

“Right now, Philipsburg is 45 degrees, but Hall — which is between Philipsburg and Drummond — it’s 17 degrees,” Smith said.

Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman contributed to this story.

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