More than a foot of new snow where snowmobilers’ deaths trigger avalanche warnings

An avalanche warning has been issued for several areas of Montana amid continuing snow forecasts in the state, including an area where two snowmobilers died last week in Minnesota, which has since seen more than a foot of additional snow. Has been.

The forecast for Friday through the weekend includes more heavy snow, strong winds and a chance of rain.

“Slabs of new and drifting ice will be thick and will be started easily by the weight of a person or snowmachine,” said a warning from The Flathead Avalanche Center. “In isolated areas, avalanches can break into weak layers of old snow near the ground. Traveling over avalanche terrain is not recommended.”

The warnings have been implemented in areas of western and northern Montana, including Cook City, north of Yellowstone National Park.

Cook City is where two snowmobilers were killed in a separate avalanche last week, and an estimated 15 inches of snow have fallen since then.

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center’s warning states, “If you climb any steep slope, even one that isn’t filled with wind, expect to trigger a slide beneath the new snow.” ” “If you need extra incentive to stay out of avalanche terrain, remember that snowpack has weaker layers that can break even deeper.”

Garden Wall Weather Station, which provides meteorological data for avalanche forecasting and research, Glacier National Park, Montana. An avalanche warning has been issued for several areas of Montana ahead of more snow forecast for this weekend.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The Montana Department of Transportation said snow occurred on Interstate 90 west of the St. Regis, including at least one location where it covered westbound lanes.

Regis, the 33-mile (53-kilometer) drive westward over Lookout Pass to the border of Idaho will be closed overnight. The agency will re-evaluate the terms on Saturday morning.

DOT Maintenance Administrator John Swartz told NBC Montana that he did not know if the slide collided with a vehicle or became trapped. Some handicapped semi tractor-trailers were also blocking the interstate, the DoT said.

Eastbound traffic was moving past the lookout pass, but with delays, the Montana Highway Patrol said.

The Flathead Avalanche Center said that in northwestern Montana, avalanche hazard was listed as high in the Whitefish Range, in the Flathead Range including a portion of Glacier National Park, and in the Swan Range.

In west-central Montana, the risk of avalanches was higher near Lolo Pass, with rattlesnakes in the southern Mission Mountains and the southern and central Bitterroot Mountains, the center said. All elevations will be affected by heavy snowfall and increased hazards.

“The likelihood of an avalanche will increase with continued wind, snowfall, rising temperatures and rain at lower altitudes,” the West Central Montana Avalanche Center said.

The Gallatin Center said strong winds created new snowdrifts that were 2 to 4 feet (61 to 122 cm) deep and that wind-filled slopes were expected to experience avalanches.

The city of Missoula and its emergency management office said Thursday that officials were “careful” in issuing an urban avalanche warning for Mount Jumbo, closing the mountain for recreation. The closure also applies to private property.

In February 2014, an avalanche that started on Mount Jumbo destroyed a house, burying two residents. One of them later died of his injuries, while her husband remained hospitalized for weeks.

The 2014 slide also buried an 8-year-old boy and his older sister partially buried as they were playing in the backyard of another residence at the base of Mount Jumbo. The girl was able to dig herself. The boy found an hour later survived because he had ended up in an air pocket.

The Montana Department of Transportation on Friday reported strong winds and severe driving conditions in the Browning area—east of Glacier National Park—and black ice was reported on roads in extreme northwestern Montana near the Idaho border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

skiing, avalanche, fall, hospital
Kyle Johnson in hospital after an avalanche and falling 100 feet in Lake Tahoe, California in March 2021. He is pictured here with his girlfriend, Claire.
Kyle Johnson