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Northern Montana Cleaning Up After Powerful Weekend Storm

The storm destroyed some outbuildings on 66 Ranch outside of Havre
Courtesy Rylee Strauser
The storm destroyed some outbuildings on 66 Ranch outside of Havre

Thousands of Montanans had a 4th of July they won’t soon forget. A storm packing powerful winds, intense rain and large hail disrupted life  across the state’s northern tier last weekend. Some think tornadoes touched down, but meteorologists aren’t yet willing to go that far.

A roughly 300-mile stretch of northern Montana is still cleaning up after a powerful storm swept across the region this weekend.

Bim Strauser operates the 66 Ranch outside of Havre. Strauser and his family were preparing to celebrate Independence Day in town at about 9:00 Saturday night.

"But then this storm was coming in. We suspected there might be some lighnting and maybe fire, you know we're so dry. So we stayed home to protect against maybe having fires around."

The Strauser family was right to be concerned about the incoming storm, but it turns out lightning would prove to be the least of their worries.

A view of the storm from the 66 Ranch outside of Havre.
Credit Courtesy Rylee Strauser
A view of the storm from the 66 Ranch north of Havre.

"But the wind hit with terrific force and the dust, we just couldn't see very far," Straser said.

Strauser's daughter, Rylee, then spotted what appeared to be a funnel cloud to the southeast.

"We suspect that's what went though and took our barn and corrals," Rylee Strauser explained,  "which are two miles from the house, here."

They were shocked at what they found when they accessed the damage on Sunday morning:

"It looked like the barn had just had a massive explosion. Probably two-thirds of it was gone with little pieces scattered over at least a half-mile of ground. The tin was all twisted up. When it went out of there it took a lot of the windbreak and corrals for our livestock and made kind of a huge mess."

One-thousand pound hay bales were scattered like toys.

A powerful storm scattered hay bales on the 66 Ranch near Havre.
Credit Courtesy Rylee Strauser
A powerful storm scattered hay bales on the 66 Ranch near Havre.

Strausser says none of his cattle or livestock were injured or killed. At that time of night they normally should have been in those corrals, but not on Saturday night. He suspects they heard the storm coming and took off.

He also suspects it was more than a common storm. He thinks a tornado damaged his place.

"At this time we have not found any evidence of tornado damage," says Megan Vandenheuvel, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Great Falls.

Vandenheuvel says a team of meteorologists went in the field looking for evidence of tornado touchdowns and came up dry. They're looking for specific evidence.

"How the damage is laying in the areas, how it's oriented. Is it more in a uniform direction? Is it very scattered? There's a lot of complexity when you go out and do a (tornado) survey. We were unable to find any evidence of tornado damage."

That's not to say the Weather Service doubts a powerful storm clobbered Northern Montana Saturday night. Vandenheuval says thunderstorms developed behind a strong cold front that was pushing south from Canada. It produced intense rainfall, golf ball-sized hail in some areas and powerful wind speeds.

"We've had reports - consistently anywhere from 70 (miles per hour) at the lower end of the spectrum to about 100 (mph) at the higher end of the spectrum. This type of event is not very common, especially given the timing. We don't see a lot of thunderstorms that develop after 9:00 p.m.," Vandenheuval says.

In addition to property and crop damage, the storm toppled power lines and knocked-out power for 8,000 to 10,000 people in an area from north-central to northeastern Montana.

Northwestern Energy's Claudia Rapkoch:

"We of course had crews out in the field and we did bring in some additional crews from Great Falls, Lewistown, Glasgow, as well as some contract crews out of Helena. We also have a number of folks working behind the scenes; the engineers, customer service agents, the warehouse personnel. It's really a team effort that goes into these major power restoration efforts."

Rapkoch says all power was restored by about 9:00 Sunday night.

Remarkably the downed power lines sparked no grass fires. She credits the heavy rains associated with the storm for preventing that problem.

Montanans can expect less dramatic and more seasonal conditions for the next three to five days; highs should be in the 80's and only a few scattered storms are possible. That lightning however could present a wildfire risk.

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