By HDN Staff and wire report
Winter storm advisories remained posted early today in parts of Montana, but weather observers said the heaviest snowfall of the winter was diminishing as the weather front tracked eastward.
The storm brought frigid weather to the Hi-Line. The 21 below temperature recorded at the Havre City-County Airport at 6 a.m. this morning shattered the previous March 21 record of 16 below in Havre.
Several factors resulted in Havre's record low on the second official day of spring.
"All the ingredients were in place," said Joe Villani, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls. "This can happen this time of year. It is rare, but when you have a snow cover, temperatures can get pretty chilly."
An arctic air mass is in place over most of Montana, Villani said, as well as over parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. Light winds and the fresh snow cover have contributed to the dropping temperatures.
Another temperature record in Havre could be broken this evening. The forecast is calling for a low between 10 and 20 below. The standing record is 11 below.
"It will probably be another record low temperature," Villani said.
Snow fell through the night in some areas, including Helena where more than 1 foot had accumulated.
Most of the winter storm advisories were in the western third of the state, including portions of the Bitterroot Valley.
The spring storm brought more than 2 feet of snow to some mountain areas, where ski hill operators were jubilant.
No major problems were reported, but a developing concern was increasing wind and drifting along outlying roads.
The Department of Transportation said emergency travel only was recommended Wednesday evening along Interstate 90 from St. Regis to the east. Heavy snow and limited visibility was reported in a wide area surrounding Missoula, deep into the the Bitterroot Valley and north into the Flathead Valley.
By evening, the snowfall at Thompson Falls contained nearly 1.4 inches of moisture, forecasters said.
The arctic-driven blizzard closed many schools, businesses and some government operations even a few casinos in Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders counties.
In Libby, a semi-trailer took out a traffic signal at a main intersection, said Lincoln County Sheriff Daryl Anderson. Basically, we're encouraging everybody to stay home,'' he said, noting wind was begin to drift the snow.
Bill Michalson, superintendent of the Helena Street Division, said the city was running three shifts to provide 24-hour coverage but crews had their hands more than full. Access streets along Last Chance Gulch were becoming rutted quagmires.
Michalson said crews were concentrating on designated snow routes, such as posted access routes to the hospital.
Unseasonably cold temperatures accompanied the winter storm, with Helena's daytime high just 9 above and Thursday's high not expected to break 12 above.
Great Falls reported 10 inches of snow by Wednesday night.
Farmers and ranchers in parched central Montana were smiling at the welcome moisture and not complaining about the additional burdens it brought during the height of the calving season.
Lana Tegeler, who works on the David Shipman ranch west of Lewistown, said there was a half-foot of new snow Wednesday morning with more falling during the day. A lot of people are bringing calves into the house'' with some of them ending up in bathdubs, she said.
Ken Mielke of the Weather Service said the snow was relatively dry. The water content in the snow is not as good as we would like it to be,'' he said.
"This is not one of those get-well (drought-ending) storms, but it does help in the short term," he said.
Mielke said the cold would likely break records in coming days. "It's not unusual to have snow on the first day of spring, but it's unusual to have this much snow and these cold temperatures."
Mick Johnson, state transportation district administrator in Great Falls, said all 74 of the agency's plows in the Great Falls area were working and keeping on top of things. But if the winds kick up, he said, there will be problems.
Gina Loss, a meteorologist at the weather bureau's Great Falls office, said northwestern Montana appeared to take the brunt of the storm.
Near East Glacier, weather observers reported 26 inches of snow since Tuesday "and I suspect they actually got a little bit more than that," Loss said.