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Montana avalanche danger rises with arrival of subtropical storm

by Daily Inter Lake
| December 4, 2023 9:00 AM

A backcountry avalanche warning was issued for Northwest Montana on Monday as a freight train of Pacific moisture is set to deliver copious amounts of rain, ice and snow to the region.

The avalanche danger may rise to a “high” rating by Tuesday morning as the warm and wet storm sweeps across the forecast region, the National Weather Service in Missoula warned Monday. If the storm develops as forecasted, rain on snow will increase the likelihood and size of triggered and natural avalanches.

The avalanche danger area includes steep slopes above 5,000 feet in the Whitefish Range, Swan Range, Flathead Range and parts of Glacier National Park, including the John F. Stevens Canyon, the Apgar Range and Marias Pass areas.

Travel in avalanche terrain will become increasingly dangerous as the storm ramps up. Avalanches may run long distances and into areas with barren ground.

The subtropical moisture will bring the possibility of record-high temperatures to Western Montana. Snow levels could soar to 8,000 or 9,000 feet in elevation before dropping back to 6,000 feet on Wednesday.

The bulk of the precipitation will affect the northern Clearwater Mountains and western portions of Lincoln, Sanders and Mineral counties. The Cabinet Mountains are projected to get swamped with 3-4 inches of rain. 

The Flathead and Mission valleys could see up to half and inch of rain. High temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday could reach 46 in Kalispell, with overnight lows above the freezing mark.

Snow levels should plummet back to the valley floor by Thursday morning, followed by another shot of cold air Friday.

The Flathead Avalanche Center begins its daily forecasts for the season on Tuesday. Visit flatheadavalanche.org for the latest mountain forecasts.