Flathead Braces for Another Potentially Severe Windstorm

National Weather Service forecasts thunderstorms Friday night with the potential of 70-mile-per-hour winds and hail

By Maggie Dresser
A powerful thunderstorm toppled the historic Spring Prairie Tree at the Kidsports Complex in Kalispell on May 31, 2020. The approximately 300-year-old Ponderosa Pine previously suffered extensive damage in a 1989 storm. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As the Flathead Valley recovers from last weekend’s major windstorm, which left 37,000 Flathead Electric Cooperative (FEC) members without power, the region is bracing for another potentially severe storm this weekend.

According to the National Weather Service, “a cluster of thunderstorms will track across Sanders, Flathead and Lake counties between 7 p.m. and midnight” this evening. Wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour with hail up to one inch in diameter are possible, but the weather service says the probabilities of those wind speeds are low.

After last weekend’s storm, which FEC Public Relations Officer Wendy Ostrom Price says caused outages in 5,000 miles of line and uprooted thousands of trees, FEC is preparing for another weather event this weekend.

“All we can do is wait and see,” Ostrom Price said. “Just knowing what high winds can impact … what we’re trying to do now is — because we live in an area with extreme weather conditions and a lot of trees — we’re trying to get people to have a Plan B in places so they can prepare.”

Ostrom Price suggests residents use backup generators, stock up on water, food, flashlights and batteries or have alternative accommodations planned.

“We certainly understand the feeling of urgency during an outage,” Ostrom Price said. “But the reality is we can’t respond immediately.”

After the May 31 storm, FEC used mutual aid from crews at Glacier Electric, Rocky Mountain Contractors and additional crews from Missoula, who worked around the clock to restore power.

While all members now have their power restored, some outages weren’t repaired until Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, Ostrom Price said.

Outages hit the entire service area, which ranges from Libby, Whitefish, Essex and south to Swan Lake, which Ostrom Price says was hit the hardest in the area.

The windstorm hit West Kalispell particularly hard, too, she said.

“I heard in Kila the winds were at 78 miles per hour,” she said. “At Glacier International Airport, they reported 69 miles per hour.”

The City of Kalispell is also still working to clean up the mess that Sunday’s storm brought. Woodland Park remains closed due to the significant damage, and Parks and Recreation Director Chad Fincher says there are still branches stuck high in fallen trees, which could fall on an unsuspecting passerby.

“It’s what I would imagine a tornado would look like,” Fincher said. “There’s lots of trees laying (down), there’s debris in trees and power lines are down. It looks like the park somewhat exploded. We have debris everywhere.”

Despite the widespread damage in Northwest Montana, Ostrom Price is thankful for the support FEC has received from the community.

“What I really, really want to express, is that the majority of our members who were impacted, they could see what was going on and we had very few complaints,” she said. “We had so much support (and) concern for our lineman safety, and encouragement (is) really what kind of gets us through these things.”

For the latest forecast, visit https://www.weather.gov/mso/.

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