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Light snow expected for turkey-day travel in western Montana

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The appetite for travel appears as great as the taste for turkey on Thanksgiving, and the weather looks tricky for both this week.

Light local snow tops the forecast for Wednesday around western Montana, while the national Transportation Security Administration warns that air traffic will be at pre-pandemic levels without pre-pandemic airport staffing.

That could lead to delays and inconvenience that might cast last year’s Zoom holiday gatherings in a more favorable light.

Monday brought temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above normal in the Missoula vicinity, and a red-flag warning for fire danger was posted for a huge swath of north-central Montana surrounding Great Falls on Monday. Winds there were gusting up to 45 mph with very low relative humidity in eastern Glacier, Toole, Pondera, Liberty, Chouteau and Fergus counties as well as much of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

A low-pressure trough was expected to bring snow to the mountains and valleys beginning around Tuesday through Wednesday morning. National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Nester said Lolo, Lookout and Marias passes could get 2 or 3 inches of snow, while McDonald and Homestake passes on the Continental Divide might only get dusted.

To the west, roads through Washington’s Cascade Mountains could get messy much of the week as an atmospheric river event dumps lots of moisture around Seattle. Watch for travel advisories — especially on Interstate 90’s Snoqualmie Pass — on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

TSA officials at Salt Lake City, a major Missoula flight hub, reported checking about 93% of 2019’s passenger volume last week. The busiest days this week were expected to be Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday. On average, TSA has been checking between 1.9 million and 2.2 million people daily, compared with the 2019 average of 2.5 million.

Nationally, no major weather events appear in the midweek forecast, which should help keep air traffic moving.

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