Nov 16, 2010 6:51 PM by Melissa Anderson (Helena)

Extreme weather causes semi pile up north of Helena

White-out conditions over icy roads contributed to a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 15 north of Helena on Tuesday afternoon.

Six semi-trucks and several cars were piled up along a quarter mile stretch of road. It resulted in the Montana Highway Patrol closing the southbound lane for several hours.

What started out as rain Tuesday morning soon turned into ice and then heavy snowfall. Wind gusts then created white-out conditions along Sieben Flats eventually causing the pile-up.

MHP Trooper Connor Smith says the weather caused four separate accidents.

"The semi in the front ended up jack-knifing, blocking out both lanes of travel," Smith says.

At that point, another semi saw the wreck, braked, and slid into the jack-knifed semi. Two other tractor trailers approached the wreck causing a second wreck.

A truck pulling a fifth wheel camp trailer pulled off to the side of the road and a car behind the camper also pulled over. Then the 6th semi hit the back of another semi and slid into the camp trailer and toppled onto a passenger car.

The toppled semi was carrying over 4,500 pound of kitty litter on its way to Utah.

The sixth semi driver, Randy Lennie, of Alberta Canada suffered a minor bump on his head.

"Right now we could use some of this kitty litter on the road," Lennie says.

Weather chaser Jim Reed was out tracking the storm when he came upon the accident. He couldn't believe what he saw. He says the National Weather Service and local media outlets have been predicting this winter storm for the past five days.

He says he thinks traffic was moving too fast for the conditions.

No serious injuries were reported, although one man was taken to St. Peter's Hospital with minor neck injuries.

The interstate was opened for traffic shortly after 5:30 pm.

For an update on Montana Road Conditions, click here.

(Initial Report: Tuesday Mid-Day) The Montana Department of Transportation reports the road has been closed from the Augusta Interchange (milepost 228.6) over the hill into Helena due to an overturned semi blocking both southbound lanes near Seiben. Montana Highway Patrol is on site and turning traffic around.

There have been several reported accidents in the area, and at least one person has been transported to the hospital with unknown injuries.

Northbound lanes remain open.

The News Station's Melissa Anderson is at the scene and provided these pictures (click to enlarge); we will have more on the accident and area road conditions throughout the day and at 5:30 on KXLH and KRTV.

High winds, low visibility and significant snow accumulations are predicted for Helena and the surrounding area due to a winter storm that is blanketing much of western Montana.

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