Larry Kline and Angela Brandt
Havre Daily News
Havre motorists and pedestrians slid into the new year after freezing rain fell on the area early Saturday.
The hazardous conditions didn't slow New Year's revelers, local tavern operators said, but the ice did bring out road crews across the region.
Bob Hoenisch, meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Great Falls office, said icy conditions like those this weekend “happen occasionally but not frequently” in the Havre area and are more common in western Montana.
Cooler air in northeastern Montana mixed with a low-pressure front from California and easterly winds over Havre to produce rain falling into 30-degree weather and freezing, Hoenisch said.
He said the forecast shows cooler temperatures over the weekend and no chances of more freezing rain.
“We've been above average lately and will be going back to normal temperatures,” Hoenisch said today.
He said normal temperatures for Havre for this time of year are a high of 26 degrees and low of 4 degrees.
The Montana Department of Transportation had every available truck on the roads Saturday and Sunday, spreading sand and liquid de-icer, Havre Division maintenance chief Dave Hand said today.
The division uses 49 trucks to maintain an area from Glacier National Park to Dodson, extending south to Loma and north to the Canadian border. Much of the area was covered in ice this weekend, Hand said.
“From Shelby to (Dodson), we had 167 miles of ice,” he said. “It was a challenge. Our guys did a good job out there.”
Hand said the liquid de-icer works well with freezing rain. He hasn't seen much of those conditions in the three years he's been with the Havre office, he said.
“I haven't seen it very often here. I would say it's not our typical weather,” Hand said.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said the area had similar weather a few years ago.
“This isn't the usual weather ... but this does happen once in a while,” Szudera said.
He said he got calls about “extremely hazardous” road conditions early Saturday morning and authorized dispatchers to call out the county Road Department to spread sand on area roads.
The icy roads caused some motorists to slide off the roads, he said, and he knew of two road signs that were knocked down on Second Street West. The Sheriff's Office also received a report of a mail truck sliding off the road at the Y north of North Havre. No one was reported injured and the vehicle was not damaged, but it had to be pulled back onto the roadway by a wrecker, a sheriff's report said.
“It wasn't the best driving for the weekend,” Szudera said. It was fortunate the icy weather didn't come on a school day, he added.
Havre public works director Dave Peterson said workers took the city's three sand trucks out over the weekend.
“There wasn't really anything out of the ordinary,” Peterson said.
Montana Highway Patrol officer Jason Wickum said the icy roads on the Hi-Line were “as bad as I have ever seen them.” Wickum, who had New Year's Eve off, said he didn't notice as many people out in Chester that night as he had expected.
Reports of New Year's Eve celebrations ranged from typical to a little slower than usual.
Eagles Club manager Tom Farnham said his crowd was typical Saturday night.
“Business was about normal even though it was a little slick out. Those who wanted to ring in the new year were out and about,” Farnham said.
PJ's Restaurant & Casino owner Jerry Bergren said the inclement weather didn't affect his crowd.
“We had a pretty busy night,” he said. “Probably a little slower than last year.”
Four B's assistant manager Debi Freier said the restaurant was as busy Saturday and early Sunday as it was last year.
“It was slow early, but then we had a good bar crowd,” she said. “It picked up later.”
Todd Schweigert, a sales consultant for Havre Ford, volunteered along with his wife, Tammy, to be a part of the dealership's free ride home program on New Year's Eve. Schweigert said he noticed fewer people out than in previous years, which might have been the result of fog and general gloomy weather conditions.
“The weather put a damper on festivities,” he said.
Schweigert said he spun on the ice once during the night. He said he warned all of his passengers to watch for the ice and didn't see anyone slip.
Brett Gilman, who volunteered as a dispatcher for the free ride program, said he received 87 calls for rides. Even more were provided because more people would get in the vehicle once it arrived at the bar.
Szudera said the area New Year's celebration wasn't anything out of the ordinary.
“We didn't receive any large amount of calls for that evening,” he said. “Normal traffic for the weekend.”
The Rocky Boy Police Department reported 13 arrests for driving under the influence of an intoxicant between Dec. 20 and Sunday, highway safety officer Myron Oats Jr. said. Oats said the number is down from about 25 arrests last year during the holidays.
Alcohol-related crashes were also down on the reservation. One single-vehicle, noninjury crash occurred about 3 a.m. Sunday, Oats said. He blamed alcohol and bad road conditions for the crash. Oats said about four alcohol-related crashes happened during the holiday season last year.
“With the majority of traffic stops, everyone had sober drivers,” Oats said today.
Oats said the changes are a result of stiffer fines, harsher penalties and the fact that the police were “out in full force.”
Havre police Lt. Russ Oswalt said 171 vehicles were stopped during Friday night's checkpoint and 41 citations were issued. Police reports said seven people were arrested during the checks, three of those on charges of possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. Havre officers arrested one man Friday night on a charge of DUI and one man on Saturday afternoon on a charge of DUI, according to police reports.