Helena received a record amount of snow Wednesday with 10 inches of new powder. The precipitation continued Thursday and added up to about a foot, according to the National Weather Service.
“The best moisture with this storm system has already gone through with the heavy snow,” said Bob Hoenisch, a NWS meteorologist.
At noon Thursday, the snow level at the Helena Regional Airport measured 12 inches. The area received 10 inches within a 24-hour time span, Hoenisch said. The previous record snowfall for Jan. 18 was 3.6 inches in 1885. The new moisture puts Helena above normal for water levels.
“It will be winding down tonight,” Hoenisch said Thursday. “After midnight things will come to an end.”
A winter-storm warning remained in effect until 4 a.m. today in areas including Helena, Lincoln and Boulder.
Officials responded to a few slide-offs and other wrecks Thursday but no major accidents.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said he was impressed with the low amount of incidents. Dutton urged drivers to take their time, make sure tires are in good shape, carry tire chains and take other safety precautions.
In addition, the slick roadways also mean response by emergency personnel may be slowed.
“We’ll do everything we can but we have to slow down, too,” Dutton said.
If people are planning on heading to the hills to take advantage of the powder, Dutton said it is vital to inform someone where you going and when you intend to return.
“The hardest ones to find are the ones who forget to tell,” he said, adding that everyone should be prepared for the elements with proper clothing and supplies to quell the risk of health impacts from the winter weather.
The risk of hypothermia will decrease leading into the weekend.
After dipping below zero this week, the temperatures will rise soon. Today’s forecast calls for highs in the mid 20s.
Some places have already seen the upward trend. Hoenisch said Thursday afternoon Boulder Hill had already warmed to 37 degrees.
“The warm air really is not far away,” he said. “Once it starts to warm, it will do so quickly.”
About a half-inch of added snow is possible Friday night. The same goes for Saturday, when the high will be near 40 degrees. The two factors may cause slick roadways.
“The good news is we look to stay in a milder weather pattern. For a few days there may be icy spots when it refreezes during the night,” Hoenisch said.
The city had nine plows out on Thursday. Public Works Director John Rundquist said the crew had been working nearly around the clock, taking a break from 2 a.m. to 4. a.m., and they would be doing it all over again into Friday.
“There’s a lot of snow being pushed around out there right now,” he said Thursday.
Rundquist said the city plans to begin plowing residential streets this weekend if the snow lets up. He said four crew members would work through the weekend to clear up as many roadways as possible. He pointed out that clearing out snow in the downtown area can be difficult since there’s limited space to store the snow. He said the city may load up the snow from downtown and deposit it in various corners and areas on Friday.
Helena’s private snow-removal companies were swamped on Thursday. Christy Jacobsen, secretary at Sno-Man Plow Service, said she and her husband had to turn off the answering machine Thursday morning. She said calls began at 6 a.m.
“We’ve had to tell them, ‘Sorry, we’ve got our hands full,’” Jacobsen said.
At Kleen King, Rick Weston said all 13 or 14 plows and two sand trucks have been running constantly and keeping a mechanic busy. He said during storms like this, the plows usually start at midnight. He said the boss was out plowing Thursday morning.
“We’re too busy to really talk about it,” Weston said. “We are swamped.”
Last year, Helena saw snow accumulate over time, but this year the snow seems to have come all at once, Rundquist said.
“I don’t think we had anything of quite this volume last year,” Rundquist said. “It’s been a few years since we’ve had this big of a dump.”
Meanwhile, Greta Dige, Helena’s code-enforcement officer, is gearing up for a busy time next week dealing with snow-covered and icy sidewalks.
Dige said so far this season about 40 warnings have been delivered by police to people who have failed to remove snow in a timely manner.
“Folks should not play the melting game,” she said, adding that new-fallen snow is much easier to deal with than its icy remains. “The more frequently you can get out there, the less you have to do later. It makes it easier in the long run.”
If the warning is not heeded, a $50 fine can be levied. Property owners and tenants can receive the warnings.
Complaints of violations can be made with Dige at 447-8458 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She noted that the more descriptive the location, even if an exact address is not visible, the better and to leave contact information in case any further questions arise.
Those who are elderly or disabled and need assistance with snow removal can contact Dige as well.
In addition to removing snow from walkways, NorthWestern Energy reminded people to keep their outdoor natural gas meters and appliance vents free from ice and snow in order to avoid a spectrum of problems, from lack of heat to deadly natural gas or carbon monoxide buildup within homes.
If the meter or vent becomes encased with snow or ice that can’t be easily removed, call NorthWestern Energy at (888) 467-2669. Don’t use a hard object or anything that may damage the equipment, a news release warned.