Winds Ravage the Flathead

By Beacon Staff

The following is a sporadic timeline of events from Wednesday night into Thursday afternoon, when the worst storm many here can remember thrashed the Flathead Valley. From the crackling police scanner and phone calls to the newsroom, to the downed power poles and the popping lightning, this is what we’ve seen and heard.

4:50 P.M.: It appears the traffic signals are working again, which should make the drive home a little more bearable.

3:20 P.M.: Traffic lights are still sporadic around town. Some are working, several more are dead. Police are directing traffic, which is horrible all through Kalispell. Again, don’t drive if you don’t have to.

2:33 P.M.: Traffic light on Main and Idaho back up. Now all the signals in Kalispell are working again.

2:04 P.M.: Traffic lights have gone down on Main and Idaho in Kalispell. Traffic is backing up and at least one accident was reported. Other power outages also reported in pockets of the city. All the traffic lights on Meridian just went down. Traffic lights are going down all over the city. Dispatcher: “They’re dead throughout the whole city.” Drive safe, or, just don’t drive.

1:50 P.M.: Flathead Electric Cooperative is reporting that 30 power poles in all were toppled or damaged in last night’s storm. Sixteen power poles snapped along Lower Valley road toward Highway 82. The majority of FEC’s customers are now back on line. Crews, which have been working through the night, are still repairing a major power pole in Bigfork. There is no estimated time of when power will be restored in that area. No fires were reported as the result of downed lines

“In the last 28 years, I haven’t seen anything like what I saw last night,” FEC Trustee Alan Ruby said in a prepared statement.

1:15 P.M.: The AP just moved a story about clean-up in the Polson area. Steve Stanley of the emergency management office for Lake County assessed the damage on the Flathead Lake shoreline and said, “As nasty as (the storm) was, I’m amazed that on the lakeshore I’m not seeing the damage I thought I would.” That’s good news. Read the full story here.

12:50 P.M.: Aside for a little debris, the road from Kalispell to Bigfork is clear. Earlier, I heard a city official tell dispatch, “I’m surprised how well everything looks.” Me too. The worst damage, at least near the roadway, is some fallen branches, split billboards and old barns that have crumbled a bit more. In Bigfork crews are still working on power lines and the traffic light is still down.

9:11 A.M.: A contributor just called and said much of downtown Bigfork has no power. Not a lot of damage, however, at least in town.

8:40 A.M.: Good morning. Well, my power finally came back on around 3:30 a.m. And, of course, I had every light on in my apartment and television blaring. Driving around the west side of Kalispell, save for some torn awnings and downed trees, it looks at lot better than I thought it would. South of town, reportedly, it’s different story. It sounds like it received the brunt of the damage. Captain’s Marine’s roof on U.S. 93 is peeled back. Buildings under construction have walls blown in and dozens of snapped trees litter the area. Lots of damage on the crossover road to Big Fork, including a grain silo that was tossed aside.

12:50 A.M. All is calm on Main Street and I’m heading home. What a night. I haven’t heard of any serious injuries, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. The damage will be assessed tomorrow. Let’s hope it wasn’t as bad as it sounded.

12:15 A.M. First responders are doing a stand-up job, responding to dozens of calls in the last three hours. The police scanner has now cooled a bit. Power is slowly coming back on around town.

11:43 P.M. A report just came in that a transformer blew up on Highway 2 East near the Lucky Logger in Evergreen.

11:26 P.M.: The Associated Press reports that wind gusting up to 70 mph blew over a drive-in theater screen and baseball back stops in Libby. Bob Nester, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, told the AP, “This is the most impressive storm I’ve seen since I’ve worked here in seven years.” Read the full story here.

11:11 P.M.: Traffic is now moving on Wisconsin Avenue.

11:02: P.M. City officials are requesting crowd control at a roof fire on First Avenue West.

Just got a call from a coworker who was on his way to the airport but is now stuck on Wisconsin Avenue north of Whitefish near Whitefish Lake Lodge. There’s a power line in the middle of the road and dozens of cars are backed up. People are turning around . There’s no way around it.

10:43 P.M.: The streets are busy for a Wednesday night. Folks are cruising the city to size up the damage. One responder quipped, “People having fun watching this crap must have something better to do.”

10:35 P.M. Fire alarm triggered at the Red Lion on Main Street. A fire truck, I’m assuming en route, just sped by the Beacon office. The National Weather service confirmed a tornado touched down at Polson at 8 p.m.

10:15 P.M.: Just drove across town. The city is mostly black, save for Main Street. Lightning is cutting through a light drizzle.

9:55 P.M.: Skies are clearing up over Kalispell. Tree fell on a trailer in Evergreen. Scanner: “I got three, four lines down.”

Dispatcher: “We’ve got pages of fires to put out right now.” Tree on fire and power line down in Somers. Tree over power line, across road, between 93 and Airport Road. Gas line just blew somewhere.

9:21 P.M.: Poles on fire. Traffic lights are down in Evergreen. Ninety percent of the valley is out of power, according to a patrol officer. Grass fire was reported on Church Drive. Another grass fire reported near U.S. Highway 40. Fire departments are maxed out. This is horrible.

9:15 P.M. The clouds are breaking up over Kalispell. A power pole is leaning over West Reserve. The power company is being sent in every direction. If a tornado didn’t hit Kalispell, then some mighty winds certainly did. Stay off the roads.

9:10 P.M. People in the water near Lakeside yelling for help. People in Wal-Mart are checking through without paying, police are heading there for assistance. Structure fire near Willow Glen and fire trucks are on their way. Scanner: “Everyone has power lines down.”

9:07 P.M.: Reports of people trying to move power poles themselves. Sparking power lines down all over Kalispell. The wind, at least on the south of town, has died down. Police are canvassing the Kalispell area looking for damage and debris.

9:04 P.M.: Reports coming in that billboards along U.S. 93 are leveled. Power lines are also down on Willow Glen. Trees cleared in West Evergreen.

8:55 P.M: Scanner: “We are aware of all the power lines down. We are having a hard time keeping up” “Tree down in West Evergreen.” My power just went off near Meridian. It’s raining. Wind blowing. Lightning strike just reported in Kalispell.

8:53 P.M.: Power lines, trees even home insulation is blowing along U.S. 93 as a storm moves through Kalispell. This follows a tornado warning about a half hour ago near Polson.

8:50 P.M.: The police scanner just announced: “Copy, did you just say a tornado hit our county?”