Arctic front ushers in dangerous wind chills
The morning commute in Northwest Montana was downright frightful Monday as a powerful push of Arctic air whipped up blizzard conditions and frigid temperatures.
Dangerous wind-chill values bottomed out at minus 63 on the summit of Blacktail Mountain at 9 a.m. on Monday - the coldest spot in the region, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula.
Whitefish Mountain Resort on Monday recorded a real temperature of minus 20 and a wind chill of minus 45, prompting the ski area to close its main chair lift to the summit for the second consecutive day. The resort canceled its ski-school programs Sunday and Monday, and restricted uphill travel both days, as well.
It wasn’t much better in the valley. Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell saw wind chills of minus 25 on Monday, while it felt like minus 18 in Bigfork and minus 20 in Polebridge.
The Arctic airmass stormed across the region early Sunday morning after spring-like weather on Saturday. Valley temperatures plummeted from the mid-40s to near zero overnight.
Falling snow, combined with wind gusts up to 50 mph in Kalispell, created dangerous driving conditions. Blowing and drifting conditions were reported all along U.S. 93 from Polson to Whitefish, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
Christ Lutheran Church in Whitefish called off worship services for the first time in 28 years due to the blizzard.
“We had no power, no heat, no lights and no radio broadcast,” Senior Pastor John Bent posted on the church’s Facebook page. “I want to thank the power crews who went out into the snow, wind, and frigid weather to find the problem and restore the power.”
The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office temporarily closed Hodgson Road south of Whitefish because of high winds Sunday afternoon.
The extreme weather closed schools in Polson, Dixon and Browning.
The avalanche danger across Northwest Montana was rated as considerable on Monday. The Flathead Avalanche Center warned of wind-created snow slabs that could be problematic for backcountry users.
“Areas sheltered from the wind offer a safer alternative,” forecaster Mark Dundas wrote in the advisory.
The arctic air will remain in place over the Northern Rockies through the work week, the National Weather Service said. Highs in the teens and lows below zero are predicted through Sunday.