With more snow and subzero temperatures expected over the next few days, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton says his office will be using new terminology when alerting drivers about slick roads.
Dutton says that he will forego using “Emergency Travel Only” in favor of “Severe Weather Driving Conditions” when issuing public safety notices. The shift mirrors terminology used by the Montana Department of Transportation and is meant to more accurately communicate warnings versus actual road closures or driving restrictions.
“It was causing some issues, so in conjunction with MDT we’ve quit using (Emergency Travel Only) because it was apparently causing some travel confusion,” Dutton said. “After a storm quits and we haven’t lifted (the warning), people are wondering if they should be driving to work and other nonemergency things like that.”
Deputies routinely report road conditions that MDT uses to update its map. If conditions became “absolutely dangerous,” the state could decide to close roads, Dutton said.
Road conditions in central and southwest Montana could quickly deteriorate through today (Sunday) before a major cold front is forecast to send temperatures plummeting.
“The main focus comes later Saturday all the way through Sunday night with possibly some snowfall rates exceeding an inch an hour in some places,” said Roger Martin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls. “Right now it looks like that will especially be over central Montana, but eventually all of central and southwest Montana will see snowfall.”
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning through Sunday night. The forecast calls for between a half foot to a foot of snow into Monday for Helena.
“After the snow exits we’ll have a fresh blanket of snow then the bottom really drops out and it gets cold quickly,” Martin said, with wind chills of 40 to 50 below zero on the central plains and 20 to 30 below zero in the southwest.
Sunday night’s low in Helena is forecast at minus 10 and a high around zero for Monday, before another frigid night of minus 16. Tuesday and Tuesday night remain cold with a high of 12 and low of minus 5, before temperatures moderate later in the work week.