Wicked winter storm wallops area
Double-digit subzero temperatures, snowfall and gusty winds forced school closures as well as the shutdown of Interstate 90 twice as blowing and drifting snow, along with ground blizzards, caused dangerous driving conditions from Park City to Livingston Sunday and Monday.
With a snow-depth of 12 inches in Columbus by Friday and in anticipation of extreme weather conditions for the weekend, Columbus, Park City, Reed Point and Rapelje all cancelled classes for Friday with Absarokee gritting it out. All sports and extra-curricular activities were also cancelled.
Columbus saw lows of 34 degrees below zero and 32 degrees below zero on Saturday and Sunday.
At Mystic Lake the lows hit at least 10 below zero and in Rapelje 33 below was the official low on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
Emergency services were kept on the run, responding to multiple motor vehicle accidents, the continued search of the Yellowstone River for a missing man and a structure fire on Shane Creek Road Friday morning.
Before 9 a.m. Sunday morning severe conditions forced the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) to close I-90 from Park City to Springdale west of Big Timber as dramatically increasing winds had created “total white-out conditions, icy roads, blowing and drifting” and in many places zero visibility, according to MDOT.
There were 50 mph to 60 mph wind gusts reported between Reed Point and Livingston. Springdale to Park City was reopened shortly after 12 p.m. with a warning from DOT to motorists that it could not promise roads would be open long enough to complete their travel plans. Authorities asked motorists to stay off the roads in order to not endanger themselves or emergency responders who would have to rescue them should something go wrong.
At 4 p.m. Sunday DOT closed Interstate 90 yet again from Livingston to Park City as a blizzard warning was issued from the NWS and extended through Monday morning. Affected counties included Stillwater, Sweet Grass and Park as well as six additional counties that were expected to experience blowing and drifting on rural roads, streets and in parking lots.
By 8:45 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, the westbound and eastbound on-ramps to I-90 in Columbus had been barricaded by Montana Highway Patrol, Columbus police and Columbus Fire Rescue to prevent travel.
Before 1 p.m. I-90 westbound from Columbus to Springdale and eastbound Springdale to Columbus once again opened.
COLD AND SNOW
The groundwork for the storm began on Dec. 6 when temperatures plummeted overnight by nearly 20 degrees. The next 10 days saw the mercury drop into the teens and below zero and on Dec. 15, the snow started piling up.
Conditions changed substantially on Dec. 6 when the high in Columbus was 25 degrees – marking an 18-degree drop from the previous day.
Twelve out of the next 13 days saw highs that hovered in the teens or lower and lows that ranged from 21 degrees to 34 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). During that time period 18.3 inches of snow fell, with 6.9 inches coming on Dec. 16, according to the National Weather Service.
The monthly total thus far sits at 18.4 inches.
At Mystic Lake temperatures were more mild overall, ranging from highs of 3 degrees to 32 degrees during that 13-day span, and lows between 10 degrees below zero and 17 degrees, according to the NWS. The 38.5 inches of snowfall with the biggest single-day snow fall coming last Friday with 13 inches.
Rapelje has been downright tropical compared to Columbus. From Dec. 6 through Dec. 18, high temperatures have ranged from 1 below zero to 34 degrees, with four of those days hitting 20 degrees or warmer. The lows ranged from 6 degrees to 33 degrees below zero, according to the NWS. There has been 13.3 inches of snowfall.