Winter blast makes for misery on I-90
A harsh return of winter weather last weekend made for misery on I-90, with multiple semi and passenger vehicle accidents resulting in injuries, backed up traffic and emergency crews on the run in hazardous conditions for two days.
There were at least 13 crashes on Saturday and at least four Sunday, documented in the Stillwater County Sheriff’s dispatch records. One incident alone involved four semis and a pickup truck in three separate crashes at the same location and at the same time. Added to the chaos were compromised or spilled loads of 40,000 pounds of potatoes, orange juice, pancake mix and fuel.
Trouble began with the arrival of a cold front that brought cold temperatures, snow and wind in the early morning hours Saturday. Those conditions left roads dangerously icy, both east and west of Columbus, and particularly on hills and shaded areas.
By 10:29 a.m. Saturday, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) had reported multiple crashes, involving a jack-knifed semi and several slide-offs at mile marker 398.
By 9:37 p.m., MHP, deputies, Columbus Fire Rescue, Park City fire and wrecker crews remained on scene at a minimum of three semi crashes — all of which were awaiting heavy wrecker units from Billings.
At that time, the eastbound lane of I-90 from Reed Point to Columbus was closed, with traffic backed-up.
By 10:30 p.m., the crash count included at least eight semis and several passenger cars.
The chaos continued Sunday.
By 11 a.m., there had been two semi crashes between mile markers 416 and 420, one of which rolled and then slid down an embankment, coming to rest with its trailer rear sticking slightly out into the eastbound passing lane.
About an hour earlier, a multi-vehicle accident in the westbound lane of I-90 near Park City was reported, involving “three wrecks at once.” In that incident, one semi rolled in the median, two other semi’s collided with each other and a fourth semi hit a pickup truck, sending the truck into a ditch, according to dispatch records. The semi that rolled was transporting orange juice
In the early afternoon, emergency crews responded to two different crashes near Reed Point that occurred approximately 15 minutes apart. One involved a 16-foot horse trailer that went into the median. The second crash involved a westbound semi left I-90, causing a partial blockage of the passing lane and a fuel leakage.
At 9:28 p.m., MDOT reported severe driving conditions from west of Big Timber to Reed Point. Just west of Big Timber, multiple semis jack-knifed, blocking the passing lane.
The last crash reported on Sunday by MDOT came at 10:29 p.m. and involved multiple vehicles with a semi jack-knifed and other semis sliding off the road.
“Weather conditions change fast in our area. Our local residents are well aware of that, and are pretty good about driving accordingly. Just remember that there are certain areas that have a tendency to stay icy even when the rest of the roads are clear,” said Stillwater County Undersheriff Chip Kem. “And always give yourself enough space between vehicles to react in the event an accident occurs in front of you.”
Rapelje was the recipient of the most new snowfall from the storm, coming in at 4.5 inches during the two-day period, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Mystic Lake was next with 4 inches, followed by Columbus at 3.9 inches, according to the NWS.
MORE OF THE SAME ON THE WAY
Another cold front was expected to creep into the region yesterday and by today, Dec. 21, the daytime high in Columbus was forecast at 27 degrees.
Friday is expected to bring yet another cold front in, with a high of 21 degrees and a 60 percent chance of snow, according to the NWS.