Havre Daily News/Tim Leeds
A view of 1st Street in Havre Monday, minutes before blizzard conditions knocked out power across the Hi-Line.
Area residents, businesses and officials still are working to recover from north-central Montana’s first serious winter storm of the year, two days before the start of spring.
Blizzard conditions Monday took out electricity in a huge block of the region, closed highways, shut down businesses and closed schools, sending students home.
Many of the problems had been resolved by this morning, although crews from NorthWestern Energy and Hill County Electric Cooperative still were working this morning to restore power to some areas, and government crews still were working to clean up damage throughout the region.
Claudia Rapkoch, spokesperson for NorthWestern Energy, said crews had been working nonstop to restore power, with new crews brought in from Great Falls to relieve the local crews and that more will be brought in if needed.
“Obviously, we had crews working throughout the night, ” she said.
After a remarkably dry and warm winter, heavy storms came through the state over the weekend. The National Weather Service predicted early in the weekend that heavy snow would hit north-central Montana, with the storm expected to come through Sunday. After a light snowfall Sunday, the weather service at 7:59 Monday morning upgraded its prediction for Hill and Blaine counties to a blizzard warning, later adding Liberty and Toole counties to that warning.
Don Emanuel, meterologist with the National Weather Service, said the exact amount of snowfall and precipitation is not known — the power outage caused the service to lose that data.
He said the reporter at the Havre City-County Airport west of Havre reported six inches of snow, and he estimated that it would equate to a half- to three-quarters-of-an-inch of precipitation.
The exact amount is unknown, and a wide variety of amounts could have fallen within short distances, Emanuel said.
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said Havre Public Works employees and local emergency services crews were busy dealing with downed power lines, blocked streets, accidents and ambulance calls.
“It got pretty hectic for a while, ” Sheppard said.
City crews still were out this morning dealing with the storm’s aftermath.
The storm also impacted area schools.
Power was out in Big Sandy by about 8 a. m., and once all students had arrived, by about 9 a. m, the schools sent them home once again.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson said the local schools also allowed parents to take their children home, but all Havre schools stayed open.
He said the school district staff will be holding debriefings to see what could be done better, but if the same situation occurs again, the actions will likely be similar. Knowing the school buildings are a safe, secure environment, the district would not close and send students out into the storm, he said.
“We will keep the schools open. Again, it’s a safety concern, ” Carlson said. “Once we have the students here, we’re not going to close them and send the kids out. ”
North Star schools took about the same action as Havre schools. The power went out for about a half an hour in Rudyard, where the district’s high school is located, and for a little longer at Gildford, with its elementary school. Due to the blizzard and the power outage, the schools stayed open but allowed parents to take their children home.
The weather also caused a school bus south of Gildford, with three students on it at the time, to overturn, but the passengers and driver sustained no serious injuries.
Monday, Harlem school officials reported they had power, but they closed the schools for safety reasons such as the dangerous driving conditions.
Christy Keto, spokesperson for Hill County Electric, said this morning that the cooperative’s customers saw power outages in a widespread region and some still were without electricity. Triangle Communications technicians joined the power cooperative’s teams to work throughout the day and night to restore power, which was continuing, she said.
Keto said the cooperative was hopeful power would be restored to its customers served by the Chinook north and south substations once NorthWestern finishes re-energizing their transmission lines, and that hopefully all service would be restored within 36 hours of this morning.
Rapkoch said that the weather had actually downed some power poles and lines, but much of the problem came from wind shaking ice-laden power lines and damaging equipment, which is much more difficult to locate.
She said some areas are still without power, and hesitated to make an estimate when all service would be restored, although the company hoped that would be later today. That could depend on how widespread the damage is, and what the working conditions are like with accumulations of snow and ice, possibly mixing with water and mud as the snow melts.
The weather also closed highways and roads, including U. S. Highway 2 between Chester and Chinook. Reportedly, downed power lines between Havre and Chinook was part of the reason for the highway closure.
By this morning, the Montana Department of Transportation showed much of Hill and Blaine counties with snow and ice on the roads and areas of reduced visibility, but no local highways were listed as closed.
The snow fell heavily through much of the day, although by last night most of the snowfall had ended.
Despite temperatures in the 30s throughout the morning, with snow melting as it fell, some areas of Havre had as much as nine inches accumulated by 12:30 p. m., although some of drifting and melting make the actual accumulation virtually impossible to guess.
The wind at times blew the snow sideways as it fell, with visibility as low as zero feet.
Power went out around Havre starting about 10 a. m., with Northern Montana Hospital, the Hill County Courthouse and Havre's City Hall reporting they were operating on emergency generators.
Power began coming back on shortly after 4 p. m. Rapkoch said power was restored to Chinook about 3 a. m. today.
Rapkoch said this morning that some customers just east of Havre as well as in locations such as Lohman, Zurich and parts of Fort Belknap still were without electricity.
Havre Daily News reporter Zach White contributed to this report.