A strong spring storm drenched much of Montana this week, with most of the state receiving significant rainfall in the lower elevations. Higher elevations in some areas received a ton of snow.

Big Sky Resort recorded at least 15 inches of wet snow and Cooke City also received over a foot of snow. The storm wreaked havoc with road conditions on mountain passes around the state, particularly on Interstate 90 over Bozeman Hill.

Motorists reportedly began getting stuck around 11 pm on Tuesday and things snowballed from there. Multiple semi-truck slide-offs and stuck vehicles eventually stopped traffic on I90 in both directions, leaving some drivers stranded for over twelve hours

Credit MDT 511
Credit MDT 511
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The blame game began quickly.

Like most Montanans, I was glued to social media coverage of the mess as it unfolded. When the pass was still closed early Wednesday morning, I thought road crews would surely have things cleared out by noon. As morning slid into the afternoon, the highway was still closed. What was taking so long?

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Online keyboard warriors had strong opinions about the storm, drivers, and who was to blame for the main East/West highway in the state being closed for 12 hours.

  • Some blamed "idiot drivers" from out-of-state.
  • Some blamed inexperienced truck drivers for creating the mess.
  • Some blamed Governor Gianforte for not activating the Montana National Guard.
  • Many blamed MDT for not handling the situation better.
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Canva
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MDT hopes to prevent a repeat scenario.

In a social media post on Thursday (5/9), the Montana Department of Transportation thanked their snow plow drivers, first responders, tow truck operators, and search and rescue personnel who helped. They added,

...we want the public to know that we see and hear your comments. We are committed to improvement and are looking at how we can better communicate with you events such as this one as we move forward.

Opinion: I'm not sure what - if anything - could have been done differently. Spring snowstorms are not rare in Montana. March, April, and May can frequently bring our heaviest snowfall. Locals know this and experienced drivers plan accordingly. My two cents is that perhaps MDT should have shut the highway down sooner, instead of waiting for it to become a parking lot of stranded vehicles.

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The Highest Highway Passes in Montana

You'll climb or descend thousands of feet in elevation while crossing Montana on interstate highways. Here are the highest-elevation mountain passes on I-90, I-94, and I-15 in Montana. We've included a few high-climbing two-lane highways as well.

Gallery Credit: Michael Foth