Snow has begun to fall in the northern Rockies and Cascades, as part of the first major snowstorm of the season, prompting millions of people to pull out their winter coats, gloves, boots and ice scrapers, after a fall of so far it’s mostly hot.
The National Weather Service is warning of the dangers of traveling on snowy mountain passes and ice on some roads as the snow first melts and then freezes in cold temperatures.
The storm is forecast to arrive in waves, beginning with precipitation falling Tuesday as rain in lower-level Washington state and as snow in the mountains. Snow is forecast to spread across northern Idaho, Montana, northwestern Wyoming and North Dakota through Friday.
Cold air moving down from northwest Canada has combined with a wet Pacific weather system, leading to cold temperatures and expected snowfall of up to 14 inches in the Cascade Mountains of northern Washington. and 18 inches in the mountains of Montana, according to forecasts from the National Meteorological. Service. Some higher elevations in the northern Rocky Mountains will see snow totals of 2 feet of snow or more.
Matt Ludwig, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, said central Montana will see the worst snow. “We’re kind of a target,” he said.
The first snow of the season is “always the most dangerous because people aren’t used to it” after driving for months on mostly dry pavement, Ludwig said. Drivers are not used to dealing with less traction, slower speeds and longer braking distances, he explained.
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Where did the snow fall?
As of Tuesday afternoon, snow had already fallen in northwestern Montana, including Glacier National Park, and began falling Tuesday night in Helena.
Northwest Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park, is also under a winter storm warning, the National Weather Service said. A light snowfall eased Tuesday night in Alberta, Canada.
Snow is expected to move into northwest and north-central North Dakota on Tuesday or early Wednesday, said Nathan Heinert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
The Williston, Watford City and Minot areas of North Dakota’s oil patch will see the heaviest snowfall in the area, possibly 8 inches to a foot of snow, Heinert said. Bismarck could see 4 to 6 inches of snow Thursday night after Wednesday’s rain, he said.
How residents are preparing for the snow storm
Helena Public Schools advised families to check the district’s website or Facebook page early Wednesday for information about school bus delays or cancellations due to the weather.
The forecast prompted residents to make appointments to put snow tires on vehicles and caused some to realize their underground sprinkler systems needed service.
At Eagle Tire in Helena, crews changed regular tires to snow tires on 30 vehicles Monday and had 40 more appointments Tuesday, manager Payton Lester said.
At Spieker Sprinklers in Helena, the winterization program is full and they had to turn away callers Tuesday, owner Joe Spieker said.
The storm brought a sudden change in the weather. Helena recorded record temperatures in the 80s late last week, which is about 25 degrees above average for this time of year, Ludwig said. Great Falls also had a day in the 80s late last week, and now the city will see 8 inches of snow this Wednesday.
“If that’s not a shock to your system, I don’t know what is,” Ludwig said.