Wind advisories and high wind warnings stretch from northern Idaho and the entirety of Montana east to the Interstate 35 corridor in Kansas and Nebraska. Areas from the Columbia River Basin and Intermountain West have already reported damaging winds, with gusts over 80 mph in the mountains likely.
Widespread winds of 50 to 65 mph are possible Wednesday evening through Thursday night farther to the east over the Dakotas and western Nebraska.
Power outages and possible sporadic damage are expected, with the potential for tractor trailers to be toppled in the high winds.
In Montana, strong winds were whipping dirt across U.S. Route 2, with “severe crosswinds" impeding travel near Glacier National Park. Downed trees were causing a number of travel interruptions in western Montana in around the Flathead and Kootenai National Forests in the northwestern part of the state.
Traffic was being routed off of Interstate 90 in Livingston, in south central Montana, due to a tractor trailer toppled across the eastbound lanes.
Magee Peak in northern Idaho was reported sustained winds of 39 mph gusting to 71 mph shortly before noon local time. Helena Regional Airport, which serves the capital of Montana, was reporting winds sustained at 38 mph gusting to 60 mph. The Cut Bank Municipal Airport in northwest Montana had winds sustained at 56 mph with gusts to 68 mph.
Mission Field Airport in Livingston, Mont., north of Yellowstone National Park, was gusting to 73 mph.
Winds were quickly increasing late Thursday morning in western Montana as the strong impulse approached, ushering in an hours-long period of of strong to damaging winds.
“[Southeast] Montana is looking at a late afternoon arrival and persisting into the overnight hours," wrote the National Weather Service in Glasgow. “60 to 80 mph gusts look to be widespread and will last 4 to 8 hours once they get going. Can’t stress enough how this is not like a typical windy Montana day; these winds will likely do damage to property and power outages are a distinct possibility.”
The strong winds over the mountains will also affect aviation, with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, Mont. warning of “severe turbulence [and] mountain wave activity.”
In western parts of the Dakotas, the strong winds are contributing to “extreme fire danger,” the gusts coupling with parched fuels in the grasslands to yield the potential for extreme fire growth and behavior if a fire gets going. Outdoor burning should not take place.
In some places, the strong winds may combine with isolated patches of light snowfall to reduce visibilities, bringing dangerous travel.
Only the high elevations of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming should see any accumulating snowfall through Thursday morning, with the Northern Plains unlikely to see more than a dusting to a coating. The system will encounter more moisture during the afternoon on Thursday, allowing a swath of plowable snow to fall in eastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and parts of central and northern Iowa.
Minneapolis is under a winter storm watch, where 5 to 9 inches are expected. After an initial batch of light appetizer snow Thursday morning, steadier, heavier snow will come down during the evening hours through early Friday. There’s a chance of near-blizzard conditions during that time frame, with winds gusting above 40 mph possible.
Conditions will improve into the weekend as the storm shifts east over the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, eventually bringing a line of downpours and gusty winds to the East Coast.