For more local coverage of the storm from the Beacon staff, see the updated story Winds Ravage the Flathead.
POLSON (AP) – A tornado touched down northwest of here Wednesday night, part of a large storm that brought lightning, damaging winds, hail, rain and flash flood warnings from the Swan Valley to Libby, the National Weather Service said.
“This is the most impressive storm I’ve seen since I’ve worked here in seven years,” said Bob Nester, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula.
Nester said there was a confirmed report of a tornado touching down northwest of Polson at about 8 p.m. and a trained weather spotter saw a tornado on the ground south of Polson. Funnel clouds were reported in other areas, including one seen over Flathead Lake by a spotter in Polson.
Strong winds downed trees and power lines causing outages in Flathead, Lake and Lincoln counties. The weather service received a report that a tree fell through the roof of a house south of Polson and that trees up to 20 inches in diameter had blown down in the region.
Winds gusting up to 70 mph blew over a drive-in theater screen and baseball back stops in Libby, while a weather spotter estimated 4 inches of rain fell there in 30 minutes, causing urban flooding.
Flash flood warnings were issued for Columbia Falls, Eureka, Troy, West Glacier, Whitefish and in Lincoln County and northern Flathead County.
A harried Lake County dispatcher summed it up: “We’ve got roofs down, barns down, power lines on the road, people in the lake _ you name it, we’ve got it going on right now.”
At Melita Island, 11 miles north of Polson, 150 Boy Scouts had but two or three minutes to run for cover when the wild winds arrived.
“It came out of nowhere,” said camp director Jim Atkinson. “It sure raised hell with the camp.”
All the campers and staff made it the lodge before trees toppled and boats were thrown onto shore. No one was hurt.
“The Boys Scouts lived up to their motto,” Atkinson said, “they were prepared and did what they were supposed to do _ and now they are excited to get back out there and do what they can to clean up the mess.”
Nester said National Weather Service teams will survey the storm damage Thursday.
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