Montana Daily Snow
By Bob Ambrose, Forecaster Posted 2 months ago December 2, 2023
A series of storm systems will make their way through the Northern Rockies this weekend. The first round on Friday brought 24-hour snow totals (as of Sat. AM 12/2) of 7” to Lookout, 5" at Whitefish, and 6” at Big Sky. Two more waves, one cold on Saturday, and one warm'er on Sunday PM will make for one snowy weekend for selective parts of Montana. Let’s dig into it.
Short Term Forecast
The base of Chair 1 at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Friday afternoon under persistent light snowfall. Whitefish opens their 23/24 season next Thursday, December 7. Looks good for that.
Big Sky Resort, open and running strong so far since November 23, saw flurries all day on Friday.
Saturday, December 2 – Sunday, December 3
**As of 8 AM Saturday, Lookout Pass has just announced they will open for (a powdery) Sunday, December 3rd.
With the jet stream powering the storm track through the center of Idaho on a NW to SE path, the mountains of central/northern Idaho will see the most snowfall from this parade of storms. Remnants of these waves of moisture will favor the mountains of western Montana, along with far SW MT and the Little Belts east of the Divide. Not too much has changed here.
The highlight of the train of storms across Montana looks to be at Lookout Pass (also shared with Idaho) where constant snowfall Saturday through Sunday evening will add another 10 – 15” before sub-tropical moisture enters the picture with the unfortunate “r” word taking over.
Now for the forecast... A cold front enters the Northern Rockies on Saturday that will interact with our remnant Pacific moisture bringing an extended period of light to sometimes moderate snowfall through Saturday night. This interaction will also kick up some strong S/SW winds bringing blowing and drifting snow across the high country.
West Central and NW Montana’s resorts will add another 4 – 7” by Sunday morning. Unfortunately, two out of the three currently open ski resorts, Great Divide and Red Lodge, will not see much or anything from these storms. The third resort, Big Sky will possibly see 2 – 4” through Sunday morning. Slightly less totals are possible at Bridger and Showdown, both needing more snow to open. Uggh.
Our third disturbance will have an element of sub-tropical moisture and will arrive on Sunday afternoon with slowly rising snow levels into Sunday night. Cold air in place will keep snow levels 3000’ – 4000’ on Sunday but rise to around 5000’ – 5500’ on Sunday night. Lookout Pass, closest to the warm atmospheric river overriding Idaho, will likely see a change over to all rain by early to mid-Sunday evening. That said, Lookout is an anomaly to the forecast models as reality tends to run colder than the model's similar elevation forecasts, so I would say there's a 50/50 chance that this will happen before 6 AM Monday.
Western Montana ski areas/resorts Snowbowl, Lost Trail, and Whitefish are still in line to add another 2 – 4” through Monday morning, with 1 – 3” at Discovery and Blacktail. East of the Divide, 1– 3” are possible at Big Sky and Maverick, with a trace to 2” at Bridger Bowl and Showdown.
Below: The NBM, an average blend of major weather models brings in an optimistic outlook on storm totals Saturday morning through 7 AM Monday. Yep.
Monday, December 4 – Tuesday, December 5
Monday through Tuesday next week, a dirty ridge of high-pressure builds over the region. It is not a typical high-pressure forecast as a dirty ridge will bring isolated rain showers and high-elevation snowfall sprinkling these two mostly cloudy days with precipitation. Snow levels will be very high Monday through Tuesday, generally above 7500’ west of the Divide, and around 8000’ east of the Divide. Rainfall amounts look to range between .1 to .2 of an inch west of the Divide. Lookout Pass could see over an inch of liquid precipitation through Tuesday.
A colder Pacific system is starting to gain some confidence in the extended models and ensembles with an Alaskan low-pressure trough moving into the Northern Rockies late on Wednesday 12/6. This storm track looks somewhat favorable to bring another round of unsettled skies with daily measurable snowfall possible through the following Saturday 12/9. There's still lots to work out with the details on this storm track, so we can only hope for the best.
Instead of showing an extended forecast animation, let's look at the sobering final November stats from the NRCS snowpack data across the Treasure State that puts things in perspective. Let's hope this weekend's storm brings us back to even close to the seasonal averages. That, and next week's forecast has me optimistic. Think positive and stay tuned.
The next update will be posted on Monday, December 2.
Montana Ski Areas & Resorts Geographical References & Projected OPENING Dates
WEST of the Divide:
Whitefish Mountain Resort - December 7th
Blacktail Mountain - TBD
Turner Mountain - TBD
Lookout Pass – TBD
Montana Snowbowl – December 8th
Discovery Basin - TBD
EAST of the Divide:
Big Sky Resort – OPEN
Bridger Bowl - December 8th
Red Lodge Mountain – OPEN
Great Divide - OPEN (Fri – Sun)
Showdown - TBD
Teton Pass Ski Area - December 9th
Maverick Mountain - TBD
Backcountry Avalanche Reports:
West Central Montana Avalanche Center
Flathead Avalanche Center
Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center:
Pinpoint Weather Forecasts, Worldwide
Our weather forecasts are available for any location on Earth.
Go to the "Maps" screen in the OpenSnow app and tap any location to get the forecast, instantly, or search for any location (on land) using the dedicated "Search" tool.
This means that you can view OpenSnow forecasts for your favorite ski resorts (duh!), backcountry ski locations, high-alpine missions, Mumbai, Aconcagua, and for your current location.
Save up to five custom locations to view on your Favorites screen for quick and convenient access to the latest 10-day snow forecast, current conditions, snowfall history, and more.
Forecasts Anywhere → OpenSnow.com/explore