Cold weather breaks records in Billings

2014-02-06T16:30:00Z 2014-02-10T15:05:09Z Cold weather breaks records in BillingsBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

It's been a cold week for radio personality "Livin' Large" Larry Wilson, who has been alternating between a camping trailer and an insulated tool shed parked at Stockman Bank on King Avenue West.

He's been in the parking lot since Tuesday at 5 p.m. when he kicked off his fifth "Freezin' for a Reason" fundraiser.

The event lasts until 5 p.m. on Friday and this year's proceeds benefit the adopt-a-room program at the Montana Rescue Mission's Children and Families shelter. 

So far he's raised $3,995, he said. 

This year's been particularly cold for Wilson, who has had to turn the heated trailer into a mobile radio studio. 

"The radio gear would have never survived the cold in that shack," he said.

He's spent as much time as he could in the insulated tool shed that was donated for the event.

On Tuesday he managed to sleep in the shed, even though a small electrical radiator provided minimal heat.

"I slept all night in the shack," he said. "I actually woke up the first morning, and it was actually pretty pleasant."

Wilson tried to stick to the plan Wednesday and got into his sleeping bag on his camping cot, but his heater just couldn't keep up.

He ended up getting into the studio-trailer a little after midnight.

"It's called freezin' for a reason, not dyin' for a reason," he joked.

It was not an ideal week for Wilson to be trying to live in a shed. 

Three consecutive records for icy temperatures have fallen since Wednesday. 

Wednesday's temperatures never crossed into the positives, staying at 3 below zero, beating the Feb. 5 record of zero degrees, observed in 1975 and 1936.

Just before midnight Wednesday, the mercury fell to 19 degrees below zero, tying the previous record for lowest low temperature set in 1989.

And early Thursday, Billings hit minus 23, beating the previous low temperature record for Feb. 6 of 12 below, set in 1936.

Feb. 6 records also were broken in Livingston, with a temperature of minus 30, breaking the previous record of 13 below set in 1973 and in Sheridan, Wyo., where it was 28 below, breaking the record of 27 below set in 1914. 

The National Weather Service has issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook lasting until Friday morning.

The unusually cold temperatures were caused by a Canadian weather system, said Julie Arthur, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Billings.

"Some arctic air mass moved into the area a couple days ago," Arthur said. "This is our coldest night of the bunch."

Billings residents can breathe a sigh of relief, though, the frigid temperatures are on their way out.

"A different air mass is moving in from the west off the Pacific Ocean," she said. "By Tuesday we're looking at temperatures in the 30s, so there's some hope for the week ahead."

While there is a break from cold temperatures, more minor snowfall is possible for the next week.

"It's going to be dryer than it has been, but not completely dry," Arthur said.

This winter is still on pace to be the third-snowiest. 

Low temperatures caused schools to close in the Billings region.

Montana State University Billings closed over concerns of a possible natural gas shortage, and schools in Shields Valley, Lame Deer, Ashland, St. Xavier and Pryor all were closed on Thursday. 

The weather was suspected in a few minor power outages across the state. 

Avenues D, E and F, Parkhill Drive and Beverly Hills Boulevard were all without power for about two and a half hours early Thursday in Billings, said Butch Larcombe, a spokesperson for NorthWestern Energy.

"We had one that started about 1:30 a.m. and it was resolved by about 4 a.m.," Larcombe said.

The exact cause of the outage was unknown, but cold temperatures were probably to blame, he said. 

Reports came in to NorthWestern in the Philipsburg and Big Sky areas, he said and crews worked throughout the day to get power restored.

An outage in the Bitterroot Valley, where a main transmission line south of Missoula went down, left 1,200 homes without power.

By 10:30 a.m. all power had been restored. 

Repairing a broken power line south of Stevensville solved the problem, Larcombe said.

Freezing temperatures and windy conditions can cause a power line to fail without warning, he said. "It's hard to predict."

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