Strong Winds Cause Damage, Down Power Lines Across Montana

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Strong, gusting winds knocked down power lines, uprooted trees and even knocked tractor-trailers on their sides near Florence and Helena.

The winds picked up on Monday and a high wind warning remained in effect for the eastern two-thirds of Montana on Tuesday.

No one was seriously injured in a big rig crash on U.S. Highway 93 near Florence, which happened at about 5:15 p.m. Monday.

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Rocky Bailey said a gust caught the 35-foot trailer and lifted it off the ground.

“It flipped on its right side and slid about 180 feet,” Bailey said. “It stopped, blocking both northbound lanes.”

The driver, Frank Briggs, was wearing a seat belt and was able to walk away from the wreck, Bailey said. His trailer was carrying about 5,500 pounds of lead bullets.

“If he’d had a heavier load, he’d have stayed on the ground,” Bailey said.

Tractor-trailers also ended up on their sides Tuesday on Interstate 15, one near Craig at about 9 a.m. and one near Montana City at about 11 a.m. The patrol says no one was injured in either crash.

Winds driven by a large low pressure area in the northeastern part of the state uprooted trees, including one that fell onto a brick house near Echo Lake owned by Andrew and Rosemary Kovatch.

In Billings, pine trees were uprooted, a billboard was twisted and a downed power line blocked a road. In Butte, an uprooted tree fell against a house. A roof blew off a house in the Townsend area, said Broadwater County Sheriff Brenda Ludwig.

Scattered power outages were reported across the state, including Malta, Billings, Glasgow, Great Falls and Helena, said Claudia Rapkoch, spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy.

“Wherever the wind is blowing, we’re getting calls,” she said Tuesday.

Rapkoch said crews have restored power to several thousand customers who reported outages Monday, but more outages were reported Tuesday as the wind brought down trees and limbs into power lines. The number of homes and businesses in the dark could not be immediately determined, Rapkoch said.

As many as 150 customers north of Great Falls have been without power since a spring snowstorm hit last week. Rapkoch said the utility hoped to restore power to them by Tuesday.

The National Weather Service says peak winds included a 94 mph gust on Logan Pass in Glacier National Park and 79 mph northeast of Lewistown, while a 74 mph gust was reported south of Malta and a 69 mph gust at Bozeman.

The wind was forecast to gradually die down Tuesday evening, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Waranauskas in Great Falls.

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