GREAT FALLS — The powerful winds that rocked most of Montana on Wednesday caused widespread damage - tipping semi trucks, toppling trees, ripping roofs, and more. The National Weather Service in Great Falls said: "This is an extreme wind event even for this area."
The NWS said that three locations set new January wind speed records: Great Falls, 76 mph; Helena, 74 mph; Havre, 72 mph. Stronger gusts were recorded in other areas, notably along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain Front.
Highway 87 was closed for several hours between Great Falls and Fort Benton. The powerful winds kicked up dust and dirt, causing very poor visibility along the road. There were gusts of more than 70 miles per hour across the region. Highway 89 from Great Falls to Belt was also closed briefly.
Great Falls Fire Rescue says that a second alarm was called in town to bring more firefighters in to deal with emergencies caused by the strong winds. There were several wind-whipped grass fires in the area, and scattered power outages in and around Great Falls.
Christian Cassell, a meteorologist at the NWS, shared this video of a 5,000 gallon empty fuel tank blowing down Interstate 15:
There were also several semi trucks blown over along I-15 near Shelby.
Lincoln Volunteer Fire Rescue posted: "Lines and trees are down all over. Be careful and don't approach any lines. It will run thru the ice and snow and can be deadly. Secure anything that can blow away. Roofs are being blown off in areas."
The National Weather Service in Missoula reported that a 125 mph wind gust was recorded on the west face of Mount Sentinel. Missoula Electric Cooperative says more than 4,300 members were in the dark as of 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday. Larger outages were reported in the Bonner, Frenchtown and Tarkio areas. Additionally, several outages were reported in the Condon and Seeley Lake areas.
Flathead Electric Cooperative says the number of customer without power was more than 13,000. The larger outages were being reported in the West Glacier, Whitefish Lake, and Libby areas -- as well as in the Kalispell areas.