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Avalanche blocks I-90 on the Montana side of Lookout Pass

MISSOULA – Three little snow slides on Friday and concerns that there might be more resulted in the Montana Department of Transportation closing the westbound lanes on Interstate 90 near Lookout Pass overnight while in western Montana and in North of Cooke City avalanche warnings were in place in Yellowstone National Park, officials said.

There has been heavy snow in the past few days and more snowfall for Friday, along with strong winds and some rain, creating warnings and treacherous road conditions in several areas of the state.

The snow slides west of St. Regis on Friday morning included one that covered the lanes heading west, the Montana Department of Transportation said.

Drivers of vehicles heading west shoveled a path through one of the chutes and drove on, said Steve Felix, DOT maintenance manager for the Missoula area.

The driver of a semi-trailer then tried to follow the shoveled path and got stuck, he said. Then the driver of another articulated lorry tried to get past the stuck and also got stuck in the snow.

The snow slides were cleared by Friday afternoon and most vehicles were removed from the area, with the exception of semi-trailers that slept in their trucks, Felix said.

A 33-mile stretch west from St. Regis to the Idaho border on Lookout Pass will be closed overnight due to concerns about further snow slides, Felix said. The agency, together with its avalanche expert, will reassess the snow conditions on Saturday, he said.

Traffic to the east was moving over the Lookout Pass, but with delays, said the Montana Highway Patrol.

In northwest Montana, avalanche danger has been classified as high in the Whitefish Range, the Flathead Range including part of Glacier National Park and the Swan Range, the Flathead Avalanche Center said.

“New and drifted snow plates become thick and can easily be triggered by the weight of a person or a snow machine,” says the warning. “In isolated areas, avalanches can break out in weak layers of old snow close to the ground. Traveling in avalanche terrain is not recommended. “

The avalanche danger is high in the Lolo Pass area, the southern mission mountains together with the rattlesnake and the southern and central Bitterroot mountains, said the West Central Montana Avalanche Center. All elevations will be affected by heavy snowfall and increased hazards.

“The likelihood of avalanches will increase with sustained wind, snowfall, rising temperatures and rain at lower elevations,” said the West Central Montana Avalanche Center.

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has also issued an avalanche warning for the windy slopes near Cooke City north of Yellowstone National Park. In the area where two Minnesota snowmobilers were killed in an avalanche on December 27, about 38 centimeters of snow have fallen since Thursday morning.

High winds created new drifts of snow that were 2 to 4 feet (61 to 122 centimeters) deep and windy slopes should experience avalanches, the Gallatin Center said.

“If you come on a steep slope, even if it is not exposed to wind, you have to expect that you trigger a slide under the fresh snow,” says the warning. “If you need an extra incentive to stay away from avalanche terrain, remember that there are weak layers in the lower snowpack that could break even deeper.”

The city of Missoula and its emergency management office said Thursday officials are “careful” in issuing a municipal avalanche warning for Mount Jumbo and locking the mountain down for recreation. The closure also applies to private property.

In February 2014, an avalanche that broke out on Mount Jumbo destroyed a house and buried two residents. One of them later died from her injuries while her husband was hospitalized for weeks.

The 2014 slide also buried an 8-year-old boy and partially buried his older sister when they were playing in the back yard of another residence at the base of Mount Jumbo. The girl could dig herself out. The boy, who was found an hour later, survived because he landed in a bubble.

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 far northwest Montana near the Idaho border.

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