By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
City and county departments and school districts have braced for the arctic blast that began arriving in Havre this morning. At least one area school district is sending children home early today.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the area this morning, with a 70 percent chance of snow through 5 p.m. today. Snow accumulation is expected to reach 2 inches. Winds will reach the 30 to 40 mph range, with gusts of up to 50 mph.
The temperature sat at 1 below zero this morning, but the service predicts that it will dip to 34 degrees below zero for tonight's low. Today's wind chills are expected to reach 45 to 55 degrees below zero.
The cold is expected to stretch through the weekend, with temperatures well below zero through Saturday night. The service predicts a high on Sunday of zero. The high on Monday and Tuesday is expected to be 10 to 20 degrees.
Box Elder Public Schools Superintendent Robert Heppner decided this morning to send school children home at 1 p.m. because of the weather. The district will have aides riding each bus to ensure the kids get home safely.
"It's wintertime," Heppner said. "That wind chill is just too cold."
Other area schools reported normal operations today.
Rick Floren, director of operations for the Havre Public Schools, said one bus in the Cottonwood area did not complete its route this morning because of blizzard conditions, and parents were advised to drive kids on that route to school. The 17 other routes were completed.
"We're constantly monitoring the weather in order to determine where potential problems are," Floren said.
The district prepared for the frigid weather by having a few staff members come in early to monitor radio communications in order to make sure all of the vehicles were making their way safely. Two of the fleet's 20 buses are kept in the garage in case they are needed for an emergency run.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said that when the weather becomes extremely cold, his department often receives extra calls from residents asking deputies to check on overdue travelers.
"This cold weather does increase our vigilance on all people in Hill County because of the short time it takes for someone to get injured in these conditions," he said.
The best strategy, Szudera said, is to stay prepared by keeping extra clothes and supplies in vehicles. The same goes for the deputies, who are encouraged to take every possible precaution.
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said his department takes extra precautions in the winter to keep its equipment going by making sure the vehicles are properly maintained. One concern is the possibility of the water in the tanker trucks freezing.
"When it's really cold out, we try not to take the apparatus out unless we have a fire," he said.