City has snowiest October in 44 years as storm strengthens over northern US

Brian Lada

It may be early October, but parts of the northern United States have been transformed into a winter wonderland as an early-season snowstorm unloads record-setting snow across the region.

This is the second storm in less than two weeks to spread snow over parts of the northern U.S. However, unlike the late-September storm, this new storm is stronger and forecast to evolve into a full-on blizzard by week's end.

Snow started to fall on Tuesday from the Cascades to the northern Rockies as the storm began to unfold.

Spokane, Washington, was one town that was hit particularly hard by the snow on Tuesday. A record-breaking 3.3 inches of snow fell, the first measurable snow in the month of October since 2001. It also made this month the third-snowiest October on record, following 3.9 inches in October of 1975 and 6.1 inches in October of 1957.

While this may not sound like an excessive amount of snow, it accumulated on trees that still had yet to shed their leaves ahead of winter. The weight of this snow caused large limbs to snap and, in some cases, entire trees to fall.

This contributed to the 30,000 power outages across the Spokane area on Wednesday morning. The unusual early-season snow combined with the power outages caused the Spokane School District to close on Wednesday.

By Wednesday morning, the worst of the storm had shifted east, focusing on Montana. One of the snowiest spots was just south of Helena, Montana, where a National Weather Service trained spotter measured over 16 inches of snow and "significant drifting."

Snow from this storm brought the two-week snow total in Great Falls, Montana, to over 26 inches. This is more snow than the city received from September through December of last year.

Not only did the snow cause problems, but so did the gusty winds. Whiteouts were reported around Leader, Montana, where sustained winds of 30 mph and gusts over 40 mph were blowing around the fresh powder that blanketed the landscape.

In Colorado, a wind gust of 66 mph was reported in Aurora, while a gust of 58 mph was observed in Buford.

People traveling across the region found it difficult to navigate through mountain passes, including those along I-90 and I-15. Part of I-15 in Idaho was closed on Wednesday due to blowing and drifting snow.

Those who are traveling by plane may also see some delays and cancelations. Delta issued a travel waiver due to the winter weather.

Snow in Bozeman, Montana, caused dozens of accidents in the city and on highways on Wednesday. The Bozeman Police Department reported at least 13 accidents in the city.

The snowstorm was preceded by a sharp cold front that seemed to cause the seasons to change in just a matter of hours.

Temperatures tumbled in Great Falls as the front moved through, causing the mercury to plummet 20 degrees in just 25 minutes.

A similar story unfolded in Billings, Montana. Residents across the city experienced what felt like a late-summer day on Tuesday with highs in the mid-70s, but by Wednesday morning, temperatures were barely hanging onto the 20-degree mark, more typical of a late-November morning.

Following a high in the lower 80s on Wednesday in Denver, the temperature had already plummeted into the upper 20s by 1 a.m. MDT Thursday as snow began to fall. The Mile High City will receive its first accumulating snow of the season on Thursday, with 1-3 inches of snow expected, but blizzard conditions should remain well to the city's north and east.

A number of accidents were reported around the city on Thursday. The Denver Police Department said it responded to nearly 100 crash reports Thursday morning.

A similar drastic change occurred in Rapid City, South Dakota. After a high near 80 degrees on Tuesday, highs were slashed by nearly 40 degrees on Wednesday. Heavy snow began falling early Thursday morning as temperatures plunged into the middle 20s. AccuWeather meteorologists say that as much as one foot of snow could fall in Rapid City by the time the storm wraps up late Thursday night.

The worst of the storm is unfolding as it strengthens over the northern Plains.

"A general 6-12 inches of snow will fall from western and central South Dakota to central and eastern North Dakota. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 30 inches is in store for parts of central and eastern North Dakota," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. "The excessive snowfall will be due to the storm stalling and strengthening over the region."

A blizzard warning was issued for five counties by the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The warning was slated to go into effect from 10 a.m. Friday until 1 p.m. CDT Saturday.

"In portions of the northern Plains, the visibility is likely to dip below one-quarter of a mile with frequent winds topping 40 mph, which is the criteria for blizzard conditions," he added.

Snow developed near the Wyoming border on Wednesday night and spread south into the I-70 Mountain Corridor. Total snow accumulations of 4 to 10 inches are expected with winds gusting as high as 35 mph.

The combination of the cold air and biting winds will also cause dangerously low AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures in parts of the Plains.

Download the free AccuWeather app to see when snow could impact your area. Keep checking back for updates on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.