Western Montana, prepare for round two. And round three. And four.
The National Weather Service is predicting a series of storms will bring high winds, large hail and plenty of lightning to the area Friday.
Meteorologist Luke Robinson said the forecast calls for three waves of challenging weather throughout the day. The new systems come before the region has fully recovered from Monday night’s violent storms.
Friday’s first system, bringing wind and lightning, will arrive around sunrise in central Idaho and push into portions of southwest Montana. Some of the thunderstorms it produces could make their way as far north as Missoula.
It’s the second bout of bad weather that could cause western Montana the most grief.
Robinson expects that storm to arrive in the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys around 2 p.m.
The storm is expected to bring winds gusting up to 60 mph or more that could down power lines and trees, adding to the damage from Monday night. There will also be frequent lightning, hail in excess of 1 inch in diameter and heavy rain that could cause flash flooding or rock and mud slides.
Once that storm passes, a cold front is expected to arrive from the west at about 9 p.m. It will bring winds in the 30 to 40 mph range that will last three or four hours before dying down early Saturday.
“It’s a very strong cold front that will bring some gusty winds with it as well,” Robinson said. “It will be breezy through Saturday, but the winds won’t be nearly as strong.”
Robinson said there is the potential for a repeat of this week’s storm event that wreaked havoc on Missoula.
“If everything comes together, there is a possibility of that, but it’s not likely,” he said.
Bitterroot National Forest fire management officer Mark Wilson said the forecasted high winds that will shift from the south to the west and eventually northwest create a major safety concern for firefighters.
While there is a 40 percent chance for a wetting rain – considered a 10th of an inch or more – Wilson said the rain will have to come before the wind to make much of a difference.
The Bitterroot Forest requested additional resources Thursday, but Wilson said they may be a challenge to find considering the amount of fire activity across the West.
“Competition for resources is very high right now,” he said. “There are still some resources that are moving around, but it likely means they will be coming from further away.”
In the meantime, Wilson said his crews are doing what they can to prepare for the potential of the upcoming storms.
“The biggest thing that we can do is just what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re hitting these new fires as hard as we can. We want to do as much work as we can in front of the event. Beyond that, we’ll look at the weather forecast and make sure our firefighters are in as safe a position as possible for whatever weather event develops tomorrow.”