BIG FALLS – Strong winds that swept through most of Montana on Wednesday caused widespread damage – tipping semi-trailers, overturning trees, tearing roofs and more. The Great Falls National Weather Service said: “This is an extreme wind event even for this area.”
The NWS said three locations set new wind speed records in January: Great Falls, 76 mph; Helena, 74 mph; Havre, 72 mph. Stronger gusts were recorded in other areas, particularly along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain Front.
Highway 87 was closed for several hours between Great Falls and Fort Benton. The strong winds lifted dust and dirt, causing very poor visibility along the route. There were gusts of over 70 miles per hour across the area. Highway 89 from Great Falls to Belt was also closed briefly.
Great Falls Fire Rescue says a second alarm has been sounded in town to bring in more firefighters to deal with emergencies caused by the strong winds. There have been several wind-driven grass fires in the area and power outages scattered in and around Great Falls.
NWS meteorologist Christian Cassell shared this video of an empty 5,000 gallon fuel tank blowing on Interstate 15:
There were also several overturned semi-trailers along I-15 near Shelby.
Lincoln Volunteer Fire Rescue posted: “Lines and trees are blown down everywhere. Be careful and don’t go near any lines. This will pass through ice and snow and can be fatal. Secure anything that can explode. Roofs are blown away in places. “
The Missoula National Weather Service reported that a 125 mph wind gust was recorded on the west face of Mount Sentinel. Missoula Electric Cooperative said more than 4,300 members were in the dark at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday. Larger outages were reported in the Bonner, Frenchtown and Tarkio areas. In addition, several outages were reported in the Condon and Seeley Lake areas.
Flathead Electric Cooperative says the number of customers without power was over 13,000. The biggest outages were reported in the West Glacier, Whitefish Lake and Libby areas – as well as in the Kalispell areas.