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Weather Wise: Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway Closed.jpg
Posted at 7:49 AM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 09:59:05-04

HELENA — Most Memorial Day weekends, the Beartooth Highway opens -- but on some Memorial Day weekends it also closes.

It takes months of clearing snow for the Montana Department of Transportation to open the Beartooth Highway. But it takes snow and wind and just a few minutes to close access to the scenic road.

Almost as soon as the seasonal road was opened this year, a big spring storm forced the closure of the road for most of Memorial Day weekend. Adverse weather conditions included heavy snow, strong wind, icy roads, and cold temperatures.

A white-knuckle drive with clear roads, the Beartooth Highway's curves, and cliffs would be extremely dangerous in a snowstorm -- and at 10,000' elevation, snow can move in on any day of the year forcing a closure. Large hail storms can also create icy and dangerous driving conditions in the middle of summer.

Following a closure, state transportation crews must clear the roads of snow, but the winds can easily create fresh snowdrifts several feet deep on the road surface. And with new snow melting, rocks and other debris that fall on the road must be cleared.

The Beartooth Highway closed last year on Sept. 23 and did not open until May 23. For nearly 8 months out of the year, the road is generally impassible because of harsh weather. That's why there are not many roads at 10,000 feet.

The latest updates on when Beartooth Pass will open can be found on the Montana Department of Transportation's website.