Welcome back winter
The winters of yesterday are back.
Roughly two weeks after a storm system closed I-90 and several schools, a second severe system roared through the area late last week, once again dropping temperatures to below zero, bringing more snow and closing I-90 yet again.
The snow began to fall last Friday, Dec. 30, mid-morning with 5.6 inches by the end of the day in Columbus. The high in Columbus came in the morning at 46 degrees and quickly fell to a low of 4 degrees, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
The interstate chaos came shortly after, with at least 16 crashes reported through the Stillwater County Sheriff’s dispatch center.
As of 7:43 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, I-90 from Columbus to Livingston was shut down by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) due to white-out conditions, icy roads and blowing and drifting snow. The interstate was reopened by 1:20 p.m. with MDOT issuing a caution to use extra care and travel slowly due to continued poor conditions.
The accident tally was proof of that, with 10 crashes reported to dispatch, including a head-on collision with a section of guardrail that totaled the vehicle and left the guardrail partially blocking the passing lane. Two roll-overs also occurred with at least one person being transported to a hospital by ambulance.
Sunday was calmer, with just three crashes. But Monday brought a bevy of crash chaos with at least 14 crashes, two of which resulted in injuries. The most serious one occurred near Columbus at 12:06 p.m. when a westbound Wyoming motorist began to swerve on the ice and rolled his SUV, ejecting him from the vehicle. The driver was not wearing a seatbelt and was taken first to the Stillwater Billings Clinic and then to a Billings hospital, where he remained in critical condition as of Wednesday, said Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Chan Barry. HelpFlight was requested but was unable to respond. The driver suffered head injuries and a “compromised airway,” according to dispatch records.
A semi traveling behind the SUV went off the road to avoid hitting several other vehicles that had stopped to help the ejected driver. The crash remains under investigation.
Another motorist was injured at 9:38 a.m. near Columbus when hit by a semi driver from Georgia who did not realize how slowly the passenger car was going “until it was too late,” said Barry. The front of the semi hit the rear of the car, pushing it off the road and the semi drove left into the median, partially blocking the passing lane eastbound, said Barry.
Columbus received 25.3 inches of snow in December, according to the NWS. The normal December amount is 8.2 inches. It was also approximately 10 degrees colder than normal in all three categories of average daily high, the average daily low and the daily average.
Mystic Lake’s December snowfall came in at 44.5 inches — more than double the normal amount of 18.1 inches. It was also approximately 8 degrees colder than normal in all three categories.
And in Rapelje, the 13.9 inch December snowfall total was up from the normal amount of 8.5 inches. Like Columbus and Mystic Lake, Rapelje was 9.5 degrees colder than normal, according to the NWS.