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Mercury falls to minus 31Posted at 1:56 p.m. January 7
Photo by Jon Ebelt IR Staff - Faced with the challenge of starting a vehicle not equipped with a block heater, David Brown, right, and friends came up with the idea of warming this Jeep engine using a space heater placed under the hood covered with a tarp. While this experiment was in progress, the crew worked on starting their various other vehicles with mixed results. ‘We've been out here all day,' said Steve Dagenais, who didn't make it too far from home Tuesday. ‘I had plans for today, but maybe tomorrow.'

Frostbite injuries and airport delays were among the consequences stemming from the weather as Helena remained caught in a wash of arctic air Tuesday.

But another winter storm closing in promises to warm things up today in exchange for more snow.

It may not be a bad deal considering that Helena and its outlying areas haven't reached minus 2 degrees since the eve of Jan. 2.

Record lows lingered Tuesday in Helena where the mercury fell to minus 31, breaking the previous record for Jan. 6 of minus 30.

Monday's temperature of minus 15 was also Helena's coldest maximum reading since Feb. 2, 1996, when the high reached minus 16 and the low hit minus 42.

What's more, Monday's high of minus 15 tied the coldest maximum temperature for Jan. 5, last set in 1909.

The ice-packed streets were blamed for numerous accidents around town, as well as frozen pipes, a blackout in the Helena Valley, and delayed flights at the Helena Regional Airport.

Ron Mercer, airport manager, said several airlines had problems with their deicing liquids, which lose their effectiveness as temperatures fall below minus 25 degrees.

"Everything is fine with the airport operationally," Mercer said. "But it seems like the weather is causing new problems."

Mercer said one passenger jet had a frozen battery and several airlines' flights ran late.

Peggy Stebbins, spokesperson for St. Peter's Hospital, said she hadn't seen any patients admitted due to the weather.

"But we have seen a few people in the emergency room for frostbite and cold-related symptoms - things that have been aggravated by the extreme cold," Stebbins said. "All those people have been treated and released."

The streets were busy as well.

Charity Watt-Levis of AAA Mountain West said her office received more than 100 calls for assistance from stranded motorists Tuesday and an equal number the day before.

"We called in our contractor from Townsend to work the Helena area," she said. "Two of our office workers are out there as well. They just took their own company cars and jumper cables and went."

Watt-Levis said that AAA Mountain West usually gets 20 calls a day. Her contractors are on call 24 hours a day.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 447-4086, or mkidston@helenair.com.

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