Farewell fall?

Weekend storm may bring snow, record low temperatures
News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, September 27, 2019
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Clouds hang low over the Little Snowies early Friday morning as the edge of the cold front approaches.

Photo by Deb Hill


Fall snowstorms are nothing new in Central Montana, but this weekend’s storm system brings with it a different challenge: potentially record-breaking cold.

According to National Weather Service Meteorologist Paul Nutter of Great Falls, a large cold front will drop into the region from Canada late Friday.

“A lot of moisture from the southwestern part of the U.S. will be pulled in over the top of the Canadian cold front,” Nutter said. “At some point the rain will turn to snow but the timing is uncertain, especially in Lewistown, where it appears a little bit of warm air from the southwest will try to work its way in.”

Nutter said the rain likely turns to snow early Saturday morning or during the day Saturday. Overall accumulation from the storm is thought to be as much as 12 inches in the Lewistown area.

“But a lot depends on when the rain turns to snow,” Nutter advised.

From Saturday into Sunday, conditions are expected to deteriorate as the cold deepens and snow begins to accumulate on roadways.

“From Fergus County, if you are heading south and east, there could be travel issues, especially around Judith Gap and the Lewistown Divide,” Nutter said. “There may also be very difficult driving conditions with wet, heavy snow if you are heading northwest to Great Falls Saturday and Sunday.”

Nutter said early storms like this one can cause a lot of damage to trees and power lines.

“This is wet, heavy snow and it will stick to the leaves of the trees. When the temperature drops, that snow freezes and turns to ice, creating a heavy weight load. Branches can break and fall on power lines, or just the weight of the snow can break power lines. There could be power outages associated with this storm.”

Dale Rikala, line superintendent at Fergus Electric, said the crews are as prepared as they can be, if lines go down.

“We check to make sure we know who’s going to be around, who’s available. We’ve checked all our materials and we are well-stocked.”

Items Rikala said the electric cooperative tries to stock up on include cross arms, splicing sleeves, insulators and even power poles.

“When we get ice and wind, it can cause the poles to break,” Rikala said, adding he prefers to fix lines rather than replace poles but will do whatever is necessary.

In addition, Fergus Electric recently completed construction on a truck garage, large enough to hold all 12 of their trucks.

According to Mechanic Jason Deffinbaugh, all Fergus Electric trucks will be brought into the garage, checked to make sure they are in good working condition and filled with fuel.

“We go out even in the bad travel weather, even if it’s 40 below,” Rikala said. “If the power’s out, we’ll get there as best we can.”

Snow is expected to continue into Monday before the storm slides off to the east and the intensity tapers off. 

However, Nutter said, that’s not the end of the issues this storm may create.

The temperature will stay cold and record low temperatures are possible, with a predicted low Tuesday morning of 16 degrees F, he said.

“The record low temperature for Lewistown on Oct. 1 is 15 degrees,” Nutter said. “That record was set in 1950.”

According to Nutter, temperatures are expected to warm up after Tuesday, with a drying trend and more seasonal temperatures the first week of October.

Fergus County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Ben Phillips said this early storm is a good reminder that winter is coming. 

“It’s time to check that you have your car ready, you have your house ready and you are prepared if the power goes out,” Phillips said.


Preparing for travel in winter weather


According to the National Weather Service, each year, on average, more than 5,000 people are killed and more than 418,000 are injured due to weather-related vehicle crashes nationwide. If you need to drive in snow or cold conditions, “take it slow in the snow.” Black ice can be difficult to see. If the temperature is near freezing, drive like you’re on ice--you may be.

    Before you leave the house, especially before a longer trip in winter, make sure all fluid levels are full and ensure the lights, heater and windshield wipers are in proper condition. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Avoid traveling alone. Let someone know your timetable and primary and alternate routes. Then call 511 for the latest traffic and road incidents, including construction and weather conditions and restrictions. Every state offers this Department of Transportation service. Call before you leave; it might change your plans.

    Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins. Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit that includes the following:

 • Mobile phone, charger, batteries

• Blankets/sleeping bags

• Flashlight with extra batteries

• First-aid kit

• Knife

• High-calorie, non-perishable food

• Extra clothing to keep dry

• Large empty can to use as emergency toilet, tissues, toilet paper and paper towels

• Small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water

• Sack of sand or cat litter for traction

• Shovel

• Windshield scraper and brush

• Tool kit

• Tow rope

• Battery booster cables

• Water container

•  Candle and matches to provide light and in an emergency, lifesaving heat.

• Compass and road maps; don’t depend on mobile devices with limited battery life.



Do you think the worst of the winter weather is behind us or ahead of us?