Season’s first snowmaker causes traffic headaches, delays

A Missoula resident tackles the shoveling first thing Thursday morning. The Missoula and Bitterroot Valley have received between 6 and 10 inches of snow. Subzero temperatures are expected to follow. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston

A potent snowmaker settled over western Montana on Thursday, delivering 6 to 10 inches of snow across the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys, and causing accidents across the region.

As of 4 p.m., snowfall totals around Missoula ranged from 6 inches in the valley to 8 inches in Pattee Canyon. The upland benches had received up to a foot, while Lolo picked up around 9 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula.

Storm warnings remain in effect across the region and an official snowfall total is still pending the outcome of the season’s first significant storm.

“We knew this had some moisture and if it lined up just right, we’d get a good shot,” said Leeann Allegretto, a meteorologist with the NWS. “It started out with a little more density last night before turning light and fluffy. That’s actually our biggest concern. We’re expecting the wind to come in tonight and later tomorrow morning, and it’s going to blow everyone.”

While the snow is expected to taper off, light winds could reduce visibility with blowing and drifting snow. Allegretto believes the biggest impacts will be felt around Butte and Salmon, Idaho.

Subzero temperatures are expected to follow.

“That’s the next thing,” said Allegretto. “Temperatures will bottom out Saturday at around minus 7 in Missoula, but we may go colder with our forecast. For valleys along the Divide, it’ll be even colder. We’re forecasting minus 30 in Seeley Lake.

The snowfall began overnight and continued through Thursday, causing accidents across the region. At 1:30 p.m., the Idaho Department of Transportation reported both westbound lanes of Interstate 90 were blocked due to a jackknifed semi. A second semi got entangled at the scene.

Wreckers were on hand throughout the afternoon attempting to clear the accident. Chains are required on all towing vehicles in Montana at Lookout Pass west of Missoula and Boulder Pass north of Butte.

In Missoula, Mountain Line reported early delays on Route 12, which serves High Park and Whitaker Drive, due to road conditions on area hills. The route resumed service after city plows tended to the streets.

“We might be little behind schedule right now, but everything is running well,” said Bill Pfeiffer of Mountain Line. “We’re taking safety first and we weren’t taking hills. We’re serving that now. Stuff has been pretty much on time and we haven’t had any major issues.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com