On Tuesday, February 26, nearly a third of Harrison’s high school students went out of their way to shovel the driveway of a home belonging to the grandparents of a Harrison graduate, who were returning from a hospital trip. The students shoveled and loaded snow into pickup trucks so Paul and Gloria Hurtgen could safely return to their home. (F. Hofman)

Snow brings out good and bad around Madison County

Tough travel and good neighbors

MADISON COUNTY—There’s no need for us to say it; if you live in Madison County, you know it snowed a lot last week. The adage about March coming in like a lion is ringing true in 2019.

Across most of the county residents woke up to as much as 20 inches last week, with windblown drifts rising much higher. The Madison River demonstrated its legendary gorging capabilities, running over Highway 287 south of Ennis, while farther north gorges were also seen on the Gallatin and Missouri rivers. 

Just last week, Montana Highway Patrol reported nearly 600 vehicle crashes across the state that were weather-related. Most of those were slide-off accidents, along with dozens of jackknifed semi-trucks. Madison County had around 30 accidents, nearly half of which were snow- and ice-caused. 

“Most of the stuff we’ve seen has been preventable, by slowing down and taking some extra time, or just not driving unless you really have to,” says Ennis police chief John Moore.

Montana law enforcement gets plenty of practice responding in winter conditions each year, but Moore says it’s more challenging when a lot of snow falls at once as happened last week

“This year it seems like we’ve gotten all of our snow within about a week,” he says. “The highway and county crews and public works are doing a great job getting the roads cleared as fast as they can but it’s just a lot of snow. And eventually you run into the question of where to put it all.”

The Montana Department of Transportation has around 700 maintenance personnel working to clear ice and snow off Montana’s 25,000 miles of highway. The state takes care of highways, but each county is responsible for its side roads. Each of Madison County’s three districts has its own road crew and snowplows, but while they were out plowing last week good Samaritans came out all over the Madison and Ruby valleys to make riding out the storm easier.

Neighbors shoveled the sidewalks of churches and preschools in Ennis while others attached snowplows to the fronts of pickup trucks or towed out neighbors who had ended up in a ditch. But in Harrison, the winter cold was no match for the warm hearts that helped an elderly neighbor.

Gloria and Paul Hurtgen live in Norris and were preparing to return home from a trip to the hospital when last week’s storm hit. When the situation reached the ears of Harrison students, nearly a third of the high school drove to Norris on a zero-degree morning to dig out the couple’s driveway by hand, using snow shovels to load a driveway’s worth of snow into the beds of pickup trucks so the Hurtgen’s wouldn’t even have to worry about snow drifts in their yard. 

The story was later picked up by a Billings news page and ended up on Facebook, where the earned praise from across the country for their selfless act.

“So very proud of these kids and their parents and teachers,” one commenter wrote. “Way to go, Harrison!”

“We have great kiddos here,” wrote another. “And the couple they are doing snow removal for is such a special couple. Wildcat proud!”

But in the end, one comment summed up all of Madison County during last week’s storm, and the willingness of residents to help those in need.

“There is nothing better than small town Montana!”


El Nino to make a return through springtime

MADISON COUNTY – Despite February’s big wallop of snow, despite cold deep enough to stymie car batteries and spread the Madison River’s ice gorging further upstream, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) forecasters are calling for El Nino again, a climate pattern likely to continue through spring.

While the El Nino is again expected to be weak – this winter’s El Nino, perhaps what kept Madison County out of heavy snows until the end of January was also deemed weak by NOAA standards – it may bring wetter conditions across the southern half of the U.S. during the coming months.

“El Nino conditions across the equatorial Pacific have come together, and we can now announce its arrival,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, and ENSO forecaster. “While sea surface temperatures are above average, current observations and climate models indicate that this El Nino will be weak, meaning we do not expect significant global impacts through the remainder of winter and into the spring.” 

Forecasters say there is about a 55-percent chance that El Nino conditions will continue through the spring.

Scientists say that some of the above-normal precipitation this winter in parts of the West is related to subseasonal variability attributed to another climate phenomena, the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), rather than El Nino influences. The MJO can trigger enhanced rainfall along the West Coast.

El Nino is a natural, ocean-atmospheric phenomenon marked by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean near the equator. Typical El Nino patterns during winter and early spring include below-average precipitation and warmer-than-average temperatures along the northern tier of the U.S., and above-normal precipitation and cooler conditions across the South. While impacts vary during each El Nino event, NOAA regularly provides temperature and precipitation outlooks for the seasons ahead.

Last winter, La Nina took effect in October 2017 and lasted through April 2018 before a return to neutral conditions. NOAA scientists will continue to monitor the El Nino and will issue the next monthly update on March 14, 2019.


Gov. Bullock declares energy emergency to ensure Montanans stay warm

MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock yesterday evening (Feb. 26) issued an executive order declaring a state of energy emergency that will make it easier for carriers to supply much-needed propane, heating oil, and diesel fuel during harsh winter conditions.

“Montana’s winter weather can pose a serious threat to the livelihood of Montanans who depend on propane and heating oil,” Governor Bullock said. “This executive order will ensure the timely and necessary delivery of petroleum products so that Montanans can stay warm in their homes.”

Deliveries to individual homes and businesses are being delayed by extreme road conditions and deep snow.

The signing of this executive order temporarily suspends “hours of service” regulations for carriers actively involved in transporting propane, heating oil, and diesel fuel to communities across Montana. The order requires that carriers and commercial drivers operate their commercial motor vehicles in a safe and prudent manner, and that “hours of service” requirements must be followed if a driver needs immediate rest.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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