Central Montana in the Deep Freeze is nothing new
February 17, 2021
Wednesday morning the thermometer dipped below 30 degrees for the first time this winter, and many locals weren’t ready for the chill. My experience of the cold morning started when I walked out into thecold to start my car so it could warm up a bit before I drove the kids to school. When I turned the key, the engine rolled over slowly for a few seconds before giving up entirely. I quickly realized that I hadn’t plugged in the block warmer, so I plugged it in and threw on my battery charger in hopes of getting the kids to school without making them walk in the brutally cold weather. An hour later, my car was still refusing to run, so I texted another parent who agreed to giving my kiddos a lift. Five minutes later, I got a follow up text announcing that their car wouldn’t start either. Shortly after finally getting the kids dropped off, I got a call from another friend in town asking for a ride because his car refused to budge. That wasn’t the last of the day. In total, I encountered 6 people whose cars fell victim to the frigid weather.
The Mountaineer’s own Leslie Gregory walked to the office Wednesday morning after her car decided it was too cold to work right. “It was plugged in. I plugged it in yesterday when I got home because it wouldn’t start yesterday either,” she explained. The previous day she was able to jump start it, but in the -30s she didn’t have as much luck. “Thank God I only live two blocks away,” she exclaimed. Leslie went on to point out that the weather is frequently colder and that this was far from the first time her car refused to run in the cold. “I’m used to it... it’s just a part of living here. It takes a tough person to live here.”
Later in the day, I encountered Officer Jeremy Echols, who was hooking a friend’s battery up to a charger in an effort to get them mobile. He explained that he had encountered 5 or 6 stranded locals with batteries drained due to the cold. He had spent some of his day running around and getting neighbors moving again. “I’ve encountered a couple people who who did not plan on going anywhere so they did not plug their vehicle in and haven’t had the need to go anywhere the last couple days so their batteries are dead.”
Local residents weren’t the only ones with stubborn vehicles. Wednesday morning, the Matthews’ gas powered school buses were able to make their regular rounds, but the school’s diesel buses either refused to start or ran poorly when they did. “The issue was yesterday the bus would not start. We have diesel buses, so that’s a minus when it comes to cold weather. It got to the point where the bus couldn’t heat up. The bus could not function.” The only bus they were able to send out was the one that runs the Box Elder route. However, the cold created difficulties where the bus couldn’t heat up, prompting the superintendent to cancel bus service for the day. “That’s when I pulled the plug and said ‘Guys, we are not gonna do this. It’s putting the bus driver at risk. It’s putting the students at risk. We cannot do that. It was was just too cold. The buses don’t heat up well when it’s this cold. It’s just too dangerous.” The same reasoning prompted the cancellation of the bus going to the game in Turner last weekend. The cold weather and unpopulated region the bus would have to travel through creates a situation where a stranded bus could be potentially life threatening to the students and staff. “On the side of safety, we’re just not running buses.” The school did not do bus service Wednesday or Thursday.
Cold weather creates two challenges for vehicles starting. In cold weather, car batteries go dead because cold batteries have reduced cranking power already. This is made worse when the extreme cold thickens up oil in the engine making it harder to turn the engine over. Combined, this results in slow turning and no starting. Batteries that are undercharged or have damage can even freeze completely. The other significant challenge comes with the ignition. It’s more difficult to ignite the air/fuel mixture when the air is extremely cold, which is why the engine will turn over, fire, and not quite start.