A weather system expected to hit Billings this weekend could generate close to 10 inches of snow and bring near-blizzard conditions to parts of eastern Montana, potentially endangering newborn livestock and producing near-impossible travel conditions.
While snowfall appears highly likely for central and Eastern Montana, the complexity of the weather system has left forecasters with limited confidence about just how hard certain areas will be hit.
"This is going to be one of those storms, the track of which dictates where the really heavy snow is, as opposed to some other heavy systems where the whole area can get blanketed," said Brian Tesar, a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Billings. The system has to potential to "clobber" certain areas, Tesar said.
By Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service in Glasgow had seen improved confidence in their forecast models, leading them to forecast with high confidence snowfall for parts of their coverage area from Sunday through Monday. Up to 12 inches is possible along the Montana-North Dakota border, and 2 to 3 inches possible south of Malta. That snow could be accompanied by winds of 35 mph or greater. Those conditions could create "difficult to near-impossible travel," and possibly stress newborn livestock, according to a press release from NWS Glasgow.
A winter storm watch will be in effect for all areas of northeast Montana, except northern Phillips County, and it will likey be upgraded to an advisory or warning by Saturday morning, according to the release.
Snow totals from Glendive to Plentywood could reach a foot, and 18 inches of snow is possible in Culbertson.
Friday afternoon, forecast models showed the possibility from Saturday through Monday for 3 to 4 inches of snow in Roundup, 6 to 9 inches in Billings and 8 to 12 inches in Red Lodge.
Over the same time period, Livingston could see 4 to 6 inches. On the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, where weather prompted Gov. Steve Bullock to declare a winter storm emergency Tuesday, Lame Deer could receive an additional 4 to 6 inches of snow from this storm.
In Billings, snow showers could accumulate to around half an inch during the day Saturday, with snowfall beginning to pick up around 9 p.m. Snowfall could be at its heaviest Sunday morning, Tesar said. Snow should taper off in Billings by Monday. Gusting winds after the snow could reach up to 30 mph in Billings, 50 mph near Baker and Ekalaka, and potentially hit up to 70 mph east of the Black Hills, Tesar said. NWS Billings is also seeing potential for blowing and drifting snow to create issues in Sheridan County, Wyoming.
"Places from Eastern Montana into the Dakotas will probably pretty much be shut down Sunday, Monday, probably even into Monday night," Tesar said. "It's going to be very dangerous traveling, particularly out in the eastern sections east of Yellowstone county. We're going to see blowing snow here too."
Temperatures on Saturday will be in the lower 30s, before beginning to drop overnight. Sunday morning, temperatures could be in the 20s, with windchill temperatures closer to 10 and dropping even lower overnight. The storm could produce wind chills in the single digits or lower from Miles City east.