“We expect a pretty serious January, February and March,” Aber said.
According to the National Weather Service report issued in October, “The Pacific Northwest should brace for a colder and wetter than average winter, while most of the South and Southeast will be warmer and drier than average through February 2011.”
While the seasonal forecast does not project when and where storms will hit, or the total accumulation through the winter, the cold and wet forecast includes the Pacific Northwest, as well as western Montana and the Northern Plains, including eastern Montana.
One of the agencies predicting extreme conditions is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
After the Weather Service forecast was issued, FEMA issued a release urging people in the forecast area to prepare for a severe winter.
“With winter right around the corner, it's never too early to start preparing for snowstorms, icy roads and other types of severe weather,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in the release. “Whether you live in an area that is used to severe winters or not, there are three simple steps all Americans should take to get ready: put together an emergency supply kit, develop a family communications plan, and stay informed about the risks and emergencies in your community.”
Newcomers may not be ready
Aber said that, especially with people moving into Montana over the last 10 years, many may not be prepared to deal with a severe winter.
“A lot of Montana residents may be complacent and not be prepared,” he said, adding that people should make sure they have emergency equipment like ropes, jumper cables, hats, gloves, other warm clothes, candles and so on.
Havre and Hill County officials say there is not much they can do to prepare, but they will do what is needed.
Havre Director of Public Works David Peterson said the city has upgraded some of its equipment, including replacing an older sander, but there is no way to set things in advance.
“We’ll try to keep up with it as best we can, but we’ll have to play it as it comes,” he said.
He added that Havre may work with other groups, such as the Montana Department of Transportation and the county, or hire contractors if needed.
There is nothing in the city budget to deal with extra expenses in snow removal, he said, but, again, the city will deal with it as it comes. If extra funds are needed, Public Works could, for example, request the City Council to borrow money to help pay.
“There’s not a lot of money,” he said.
"We can handle 'er"
Jerry Otto, superintendent of the Hill County Road and Bridge Department, made similar comments on the county level.
“We can handle ’er — we’ve got nine plows, and we can handle it,” he said.
Otto said one issue is that it could cut down the time available to spread gravel — the more time spent plowing, the less time workers can gravel roads.
The budget situation could be a problem, if more work needs to be done than expected, he said.
If the weather gets bad enough to overrun his budget, that would lead to an emergency situation involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.
“If Hill and Blaine and Chouteau counties all get a blizzard, then FEMA would get involved,” Otto said. “Otherwise, we can handle it.”