A winter storm named for a fictional evil overlord has cast winter’s blight across much of Montana, focusing so far on Blaine and Hill counties, with its impact expected to spread across much of the nation.
Winter Storm Gandolf, named for a character in the fantasy novel “The Well at World’s End, ” moved into north-central Montana Thursday morning and National Weather Service reports it has dropped a foot or more of snow in the Havre area and is expected to continue through to near midnight.
Snowfall started in Havre before 7 a. m. Thursday, and continued through the day and into today.
The snowfall recorded through midnight at the reporting station west of Havre was 7 inches — a new record for Jan. 10.
That has led to school and bus closures, broken water mains, crews working to clear roads and streets, cancellation or postponement of sports and other activities — see more details on Sports on Page A6 — and general side effects of a severe winter storm.
The temperatures, which hit a balmy high of 51 at the Havre reporting station Wednesday, are expected to drop to near-minus 15 tonight, with highs in the single digits Saturday and teens Sunday and Monday, and lows below zero again on those days.
The Weather Service reports that much of the other areas of the state are reporting closer to 6 inches of snow so far.
The weather is impacting interstate and highway use, with Montana Department of Transportation’s interactive road condition webpage showing virtually all roadways with snow cover or snow and ice and most areas east of the Continental Divide showing reduced visibility.
This morning two sections of road on Montana Highway 3 had been closed near Garneill and near Harlowton.
The Weather Channel already is advising people to use caution on interstates farther afield, including Interstate 90 into North Dakota, Interstate 94 into South Dakota, and Interstate 29 in eastern North Dakota. Driving conditions outside of Montana could continue to worsen as a mix of sleet and freezing rain will be followed by snow Saturday over parts of far eastern North Dakota, northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin
The storm is expected to continue to spread snow, wind and dangerously cold temperatures into the northern Plains by Saturday. The storm is expected to drop more than a foot of snow in the mountains of Wyoming and Utah and 6 inches to 12 inches in the Dakotas and into northwest Minnesota.
Widespread fog is likely east of the storm as warmer, moister air flows in over the cold surfaces.
Weather Service reports that the storm has hit most of Montana, and by tonight will push into areas not yet heavily affected. While snowfall is expected to taper off in north-central Montana by tonight — the winter storm warning is in effect through 11 p. m. — a few more inches of accumulation are likely.
The weather is predicted to moderate later, with at least partly sunny skies Saturday and through much of next week, although Weather Service and The Weather Channel predict a chance of snow showers throughout next week. Temperatures are expected to rise into the 20s and even 30s for highs, with lows in the teens and single digits.
Montana Department of Transportation travel information online: http://www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo/
Schools close, public workers go into overdrive
Gandolf the white may have given Havre Public Schools the day off, but the three public plowing crews in Havre have gone into overdrive.
The Montana Department of Transportation has been out clearing roads since 7 a. m. Thursday, said Matt Ladenburg, Havre’s maintenance chief. The 11 employees of the Havre MDT office plowed until about 10:30 p. m., then started up again around 4 a. m. today.
Their trucks cover roads including U. S. Highway 2 from Hingham to Chinook, U.S. Highway 87 south to Box Elder and the highways north of Havre to the Canadian border, along with Beaver Creek Road down to Taylor Road and the Cleveland Road, out to Cleveland, south of Chinook.
So much snow, and such light snow, will keep them busy into next week, Ladenburg said.
“This is pretty fluffy snow. We could have visibility issues and drifting for several days, ” Ladenburg said. “Even if it stopped right now, the wind that’s blowing right now will keep us busy for several days. ”
The drifting is going to be so bad this weekend, said Jerry Otto, Hill County Road Supervisor, this morning, that it won’t even be worth plowing out in the county until probably Sunday.
“It’s blowing so hard in the country we’re going to let it blow down, unless there’s an emergency, ” Otto said. “Stay home if you can, because it’s bad out there. ”
Meanwhile the county will be focusing on plowing around Havre, clearing emergency routes like to the Havre City-County Airport.
In town, Havre Public Works is busy plowing the main snow routes this morning, said Dave Peterson, Public Works director. That’s 13th, 11th and 9th streets and 3rd Avenue.
“Depending on what we’ve got for time, then we’ll focus on the busier areas like downtown and secondary routes like 6th Avenue, ” Peterson said.
If parked on one of those streets, Peterson recommends moving to a less-traveled street, so the plows can get the roads the most cleared.
The department is also repairing a water main break between City Hall and St. Jude Thaddeus School.
“Cold water definitely affects the pipes this time of year, ” Peterson said, “It plays havoc.”
Storm name, ‘Gandolf, ’ likely has origins centuries old
The Weather Service says on its website that the name of the storm dumping snow and bringing bitter temperatures to much of the continent is not a misspelling of a name from a popular fantasy series now made into a movie: Gandolf comes from an earlier work, and likely goes back to stories centuries earlier.
The name Gandolf is a character in the William Morris fantasy novel “The Well at the World’s End, ” published in 1896.
Unlike Gandalf, the long-popular wizard in J. R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and the “The Lord of the Rings, ” Gandolf was an utterly evil overlord in Morris’ fantasy.
Tolkien gave credit to Morris for influencing much of his writing.
The name likely was derived from a Norse word, The Weather Channel reports, Gandalf and Gandalfr, meaning “wand, ” “staff” or “magic, ” and “elf. ” That word was used in Norse sagas as early as the 12th century.
The Weather Channel website also adds that if the letters are rearranged, the name spells “fog land, ” appropriate because the storm could lead to widespread fog in the northeastern United States.