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Now Entering Montana: Ice-Box Capital of the US

The severe cold has frozen ducks on ponds and exploded pine-tree trunks at Yellowstone

Let's get this straight. Your car still won't start, the basement is flooding with water from a ruptured pipe, and the kids have cabin fever. Before you grumble any more about global cooling, consider this frigid nugget of news extracted from the newly crowned ice box of North America: Havre, Mont.

In Havre - which over the last week won dubious distinction as the coldest spot in the contiguous United States six days running - the so-called Siberian Express weather pattern apparently has its perks.

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"The action on the street has been pretty quiet. Nobody is going out and burglarizing homes ... because it's too cold," says Sgt. Russ Ostwalt, police sergeant in the agricultural town of 12,000 one hour south of Canada.

But not everyone is quick to see benefits from temperatures that have been headstrong and antisocial, even by Montana standards.

"I don't know anything humorous about this cold weather," says Bill Abeling with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, N.D. "I think people up here just stoically suffer through it, which doesn't mean they enjoy it. They just deal with it the best they can."

In addition to a recent pandemic of dead car batteries, bursting water pipes, and triple digit windchills, the severe cold air left ducks frozen in place on ponds and pine-tree trunks in Yellowstone literally exploding.

Still, to put the cryogenic readings of Montana and the Dakotas in perspective, as residents of El Paso, Texas, were beside themselves recently with an "unbearable" 31 degrees F., Havre was 70 degrees colder - 110 degrees if you compare windchill factors.

When it's that cold, frostbite can occur in less than 30 seconds and boiled water, if hurled into the air, will turn to snow. One other phenomenon: At night, when winds die, moisture in the air crystallizes, allowing suspended ice to hold light like a sunbeam, creating an effect like the Northern Lights.

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