Monday’s wind warning fizzled out shortly before dawn, but the rest of the week can expect a return of winter weather.
The strongest gusts from a National Weather Service alert on Sunday night hit the 20-25 mph range between 5 and 6 a.m. Monday in the Missoula Valley. However, the Flathead and Mission valleys remained on watch with a wind advisory through late Monday evening.
Afternoon high temperatures in the 40s across much of western Montana should be replaced by evening with much colder air and more snow settling in overnight into Tuesday. As much as 2 feet of snow is possible in the higher mountain elevations.
“We could see an inch, maybe two, in the Missoula Valley,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Conlan said on Monday afternoon. “This evening as the cold front comes through, we could see some pretty brisk winds from the southwest.”
Continued snow accumulations on Tuesday and early Wednesday could pile up in the Clearwater and Bitterroot mountains. An avalanche on Sunday closed Highway 12 just west of Lolo Hot Springs, with westbound traffic stopped at Lolo Pass on Monday, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
Conditions could get more interesting later in the week, when another storm system moves into the Northern Rocky Mountains on Thursday. This system doesn’t qualify as an arctic outbreak, but a bulge of cold air out of Canada that will chill much of central and eastern Montana has a slight potential of spilling over the Continental Divide and lowering temperatures in the western third of the state.
February’s snowpack in the Missoula area has picked up some surplus after starting 2021 in the hole. January accumulations were well below average, collecting barely 5 inches by the end of the month instead of the usual 10. The graph took a comforting shift after the first few days of February, however, pushing the Missoula area to 18.9 inches on Feb. 20 compared to the usual 14 inches.
Unfortunately, snowpack doesn’t always correlate to moisture content. On that score, the Missoula region is sticking pretty close to its mid-February average with 1.44 inches of total precipitation logged.
Conlan said the only part of the state running behind was the far northwest corner, where recording sites have picked up between 80 and 90% of their usual snowpack totals to date. Most of the rest of western Montana sits close to normal for mountain snowpack, even as the valleys see extensive melting.