Winter snowfall in Harve

Winter snowfall in Harve
Usually, snow blowers would be in the window display facing the street at Havre Hardware and Home, but it was empty Monday.

"It's been a good winter for business," says manager Scott Stockdill, noting he's sold out of snow blowers, not to mention shovels. Even his stock of toboggans is running low.

It's been a good winter for snow in this community of 9,800, at least to date, as Stockdill can attest.

As of Monday, Feb. 12, snowfall in Havre was 70 inches, with yet another storm expected to hit the snow-battered city Wednesday afternoon.

That's almost 4 feet above normal — and the snowiest it's been in the city at this stage of the winter since 1880, when weather records began in Havre, according to the National Weather Service in Great Falls.

The 70 inches tops the previous record-to-date of 68.5 inches of snow set in 1977.

"Which is pretty impressive," said Jason Anglin, a Weather Service meteorologist.

Tim LaBuea uses a Bobcat to load snow onto a truck driven by Larry Geyer in Big Sandy.
© Karl Puckett
Tim LaBuea uses a Bobcat to load snow onto a truck driven by Larry Geyer in Big Sandy.
While the deluge of snowstorms has been boon for some businesses, its clogged up downtown with snow and has the city on the verge of running out of sand to apply to its icy streets.

And the snow and bitter cold also is wreaking havoc on school schedules and water pipes in the community of Box Elder 25 miles south of the city.

"It's been pretty treacherous," said Neal Rosette Jr., athletic director for Box Elder School on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.

Across the city of Havre, mini-mountains of snow seemingly rise around every corner, occupying all available real estate in parking lots, corners and the even the middle of streets, thanks to the snowstorm-after-snowstorm beginning in October.

A strong high-pressure ridge off the West Coast has allowed the jet stream to dip farther south into the United States, Anglin said.

That's why Havre is being hammered with record-breaking snow this winter.

The ridge has allowed cold fronts from Canada to move in, and the Pacific Ocean moisture has only enhanced the snowfall.

"It's kind of a one-two punch where we have that door open for all those cold fronts coming down, but at the same time we're getting this moist, westerly flow," Anglin said.

Winter came early.

An Oct. 2-3 snowstorm socked it to the city with 13 inches, followed by 4.5 inches Nov. 1-5 and 11.5 inches Dec. 27-30. That was just the beginning.

"It's been a crazy year to say the least, and we're only half way through," said Rosette Jr., the Box Elder athletic director.

Extreme cold and snow already has forced the cancellation of six days of school in the district.

"We usually don't even use our snow days," said Alvina Friede, the school district's clerk.

Three days will need to be made up in the summer, she said.

"The spring storms are the worst here, too," Friede said.

A "Winter Fun for Everyone" sign hangs outside one classroom.

While spirits remain high despite the brutal weather, it's made for dangerous traveling, with three sporting events rescheduled so far, Rosette said.

Following the October snowstorm, the district was forced to cancel three days of school even though it wasn't officially winter yet.

Snow as viewed from inside the school at Box Elder School,

Snow as viewed from inside the school at Box Elder School
It's also been cold, too.

The average temperature in January in Havre was 13.8 degrees. The normal is 18.

Through Feb. 12, the average temperature was 4.7 below zero.

"The only thing I've been doing to keep warm is keep a good pace," said Logan Pike, a mail carrier in Havre, as he scooted from mail box to mail box, a scarf protecting his face and his hair highlighted with frost.

Wearing layers — three on his legs — and watching out for ice has been critical in handling the unusually cold and snowy conditions, he said.

It was 15 below in the city Monday when he completed his route.

Streets, packed hard with snow, were in good shape for a boot hockey game, but not great for driving.

Vehicle tires squeaked as they rolled over the crunchy snow in the bitter cold.

"Getting to be a hazard," Tim LaBuea said of the snow that's piling up in the community of Big Sandy 35 miles south of Havre.

A snow drift in Big Sandy.
© Karl Puckett
A snow drift in Big Sandy.
LaBueau, wearing only a T-shirt, was seated in a heated cab of a Bobcat he was using to make a dent in an island of snow occupying the middle of main street, where Christmas decorations still were up including an over-the-street string of lights with the message, "Peace on Earth," and two dove figures.

LaBueau used an expletive to describe the severity of the winter, then attacked the snow with the Bobcat, loading a dump truck driven by Larry Geyser, who headed across the highway to offload in an area near the railroad tracks.

"Not enough room for traffic," LaBueau said of the mission to clear the street.

In Box Elder, the cold was a contributing factor in a water main break that had 200 homes without water since Friday, Harlan Baker, chairman of the Chippewa Creek Tribe, said Tuesday.

Water was being delivered to the affected homes, and crews were out searching for the source of the break.

"The deep snow makes it difficult, of course, the cold as well," Baker said.

The break caused a large loss of capacity in the water storage system, he said. Cold temperatures also are being blamed for breaking water lines to homes and filling up crawl spaces, which has been a drain on the water system, too, Baker said.

"We've had some really cold weather," said Baker, with windchills as cold as 62 below zero. "Really, really cold."

For the month of January, 14 inches of snow was recorded in Havre, according to the Weather Service.

And, as of Monday, residents had endured 23.5 inches of snowfall in February.

The normal for the entire month is 5.8 inches.

Usually, the snowiest months in Havre are December and January with a lull in February, Anglin said.

Snow weighs down tree branches in Havre, which received more than 15 inches of snow over two days.
© Hazer Novich, NorthWestern Energy
Snow weighs down tree branches in Havre, which received more than 15 inches of snow over two days.
In Cut Bank, another Hi-Line community 127 miles west of Havre, 60.9 inches of snow had fallen for the year as of Feb. 12 breaking the previous record to date of 60.7 inches set in 1946-47.

East Glacier, tucked in the mountains, has 207 inches, second to the 230 inches of 1971-72.

Great Falls is experiencing its fourth snowiest winter to date
, with 57.8 inches reported as of Monday, which is about 10 inches off the pace of the record of 67 inches in 2010-2011.

That's still 22.7 inches above normal.

What makes Havre stand out is snowfall is three times above the average of 23.2 inches as of Feb. 12, Anglin said.

"A lot of years, if we get the Chinook winds to come in, we might do it once, maybe twice," said David Peterson, Havre's public works director, of removing snow from the city's 12-block downtown area. "This year, it will probably be three to four times where we go into downtown to clear that out."

It takes about two hours to load snow from one block onto the trucks, which have a capacity of 5 yards.

"That's quite a bit of snow," Peterson said.

Clearing the entire downtown equals about 500 loads of snow, he said.

Because downtown is so busy, crews must work late at night or early in the morning to plow and load the snow so they're done by the time traffic picks up.

Some people are having difficulty keeping sidewalks cleared, and getting in and out of alleys to pick up garbage isn't easy, Peterson said.

If it doesn't warm up soon, said Peterson, the city will have to find more sand.

"We're running out of our sanding material for our streets," Peterson said. "We've got additional sand, but it's all frozen."

Public Works crews already have gone through 1,200 to 1,500 yards.

Fuel and overtime expenses are up as well, Peterson said.

Warming Chinook winds that typically melt the snow haven't blown as often this season, pressing snowplow crews to keep up as the storms keep coming, he said.

Early and continuous snowfall is threatening to stay late.

The February through March forecast calls for a slight chance of below normal temperatures and a slight chance of above normal precipitation.

As a result, the city has a chance of snapping the snowiest full winter on record, which is 93.3 inches in 1981-82, said Anglin, noting it's only mid-February and March and April, the wettest months, are still ahead.

The Monday forecast called for another 4 to 6 inches of snow from Great Falls to Havre, and up to a foot across the Rocky Mountain Front, Wednesday into Thursday.

"It's definitely piling up," Anglin said.

Since December, said Stockdill, the Havre Hardware and Home manager, the store had sold 50 or 60 of the large orange toboggans, 200 to 300 shovels and 30 snow blowers.

The store is out of shovels, except for the "scoop" type.

More snow blowers have been ordered.

"They're all spoken for," Stockdill said.