More than a foot of snow could fall at higher elevations around south-central Montana this week, including in the Beartooth Mountains where Montana Department of Transportation crews remained on pace Monday to fully open the Beartooth Highway by Friday.
A 14-day weather outlook shows below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation in the area, said Dan Borsum, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings.
With a significant amount of rain having already fallen, and more expected, the NWS in Billings issued a flood watch Monday for a broad area of central and Eastern Montana. That flood watch will remain through Saturday.
"The good news, if there is any, is that the word snow means less water actually going into the big rivers, so we are kind of not combining low-elevation rain and snow melt when it comes to the Yellowstone River," Borsum said. "But we are expecting low elevations to see a considerable amount of rain, anywhere from 1 to 2 inches in the Billings area."
Road crews plowing through snow drifts along the Beartooth Highway encountered thick fog Monday, but by Monday afternoon they said opening the roadway by Friday remained possible.
"They're still on track," said Lori Ryan, a public information officer with MDT. "It is all dependent at this point on Mother Nature and how much weather we get."
A winter storm watch was set for Tuesday morning and will remain through Wednesday evening for the Absaroka, Beartooth and Crazy mountains, along with northeast portions of the Bighorn Mountains, Cooke City and Burgess Junction.
More than a foot of snow could be accompanied by wind gusts as high as 40 miles per hour, according to the NWS.
Temperatures in the region are low enough that Borsum guessed areas as low as 7,000 to 6,000 feet, roughly about 500 feet higher than the town of Red Lodge, could see snow. That snow could be especially heavy Wednesday evening.
Strong storm systems rotating over the area have tapped into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, Borsum said.
"The main storm track is to the south and east of Montana, which puts us under a deep easterly flow. When that easterly flow intersects with all these mountains, it really loves to produce snowfall, in particular on north- and east-facing aspects."