The National Weather Service is predicting a major winter storm with heavy snow and strong winds to hammer northwest Montana, which will also affect the Missoula area.

Meteorologist Ryan Leach said the storm is coming from the northwest.

“This is an unusually wet weather system coming,” Leach said. “The area with the most snow will be north of I-90. South of I-90 and possibly into parts of the southern Mission Valley will see some warmer air creep up from the south and that will allow a transition to rain for a while and then heavy wet snow. Further north, most of the snow will be a low density, which will be really important when you get to the Kalispell area because on Saturday night when we get a backdoor cold front which will bring a lot of wind.”

Leach said the combination will bring very difficult driving conditions in northwest Montana.

“What we’re really concerned about is blowing and drifting snow, especially in the Kalispell and West Glacier areas,” he said. “Some of the storm totals we’re looking at in northwest Montana are between 8 to 12 inches of snow during the day on Saturday. Then, Saturday night, the winds are going to pick up and they’ll have blizzard-type conditions, with blowing and drifting snow which will make it hard, if not impossible, for snowplows to keep up.”

Leach said Missoula will also see significant snowfall.

“In Missoula, we’re looking at between three to six inches of snow,” he said. “That depends on how much of that warm air we get which will determine if the snow will be mixed with rain. During the day Saturday, I would not be at all surprised to see it transition completely to rain for awhile.”

Leach said the snow will be particularly heavy over the mountain passes.

“It’s already started snowing on Lookout Pass,” Leach said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 15 to 20 inches on Lookout Pass on Saturday. Basically, the mountains for this event will see the snow measured not in inches, but in feet. Some of the higher elevations could see three to four feet of snow, which could lead to a high danger of avalanches in the high mountains, so the avalanche forecasters are dialed into this system as well.”