By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre's temperature drop of 49 degrees Wednesday led the state, with a the low bottoming out at 23 below zero, among the coldest temperatures in the state.
Chinook's low was 25 below zero. The lowest was 40 below at Del Bonita.
The arctic front is expected to tighten its grip, dropping tonight's low to 37 below and extending through the weekend.
Winds gusting up to 30 mph along the Hi-Line and in eastern areas were creating difficult driving conditions and motorists were urged to stay home, if possible.
The Department of Transportation said only emergency travel was recommended along U.S. 191 southwest of Malta. The Montana Highway Patrol said Interstate 15 had been closed to all but emergency travel from Clancy to Great Falls.
In areas along and east of the Rocky Mountain Front, the snow and blowing snow advisory was continued through the pre-dawn hours today, and a wind chill advisory was issued for Blaine, Hill, Liberty and Toole counties.
Local government and utility officials said they're well prepared for extreme cold and that services should not be interrupted.
"The systems are built for this kind of demand," NorthWestern Energy spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said. "The only thing we get concerned about is if this kind of weather lasts a long time."
Rapkoch said NorthWestern has been preparing for the levels of usage expected to come with the cold snap.
"People do use more electricity and more gas," she said. "Obviously, things like furnaces have to work harder in this kind of weather."
She noted that it is important for residents to make sure their exhaust vents remain clear of snow, as a blockage can cause a loss of heat or buildup of deadly carbon monoxide.
Bonnie Hansen, general manager at Bresnan Communications, likewise said the cold weather will not affect cable service.
"We build our systems to withstand extreme temperatures, but high winds can take out lines," she said.
The winds that swept through the area Wednesday have died down, with the National Weather Service calling for winds of 5 to 10 mph over the next few days.
Havre public works director Dave Peterson said the cold weather should not affect water service. The water and wastewater treatment plants have backup generation in case power is lost.
He said the department typically does not have a problem with water mains breaking in cold weather, but workers would be ready in case a problem arose.
"We're just kind of dealing with it on a day-to-day basis," Peterson said.
If residents have any problems, they can call the city at 265-4941 during business hours or the dispatch center at 265-4361 after hours or during an emergency.