Strong winds, possible tornados damage buildings, crops across wide swath of Montana

  • Updated: August 2, 2013 - 6:55 PM

HELENA, Mont. — Strong thunderstorms that moved across Montana left a trail of damage to crops and buildings along with downed trees and power outages.

The worst damage from Thursday's storm may have occurred in Gallatin County, where winds gusting up to 89 mph devastated wheat and barley crops that likely would have been harvested next week, Montana Grain Growers Vice President Matt Flikkema said.

"I've never seen crop damage to the extent we have here in the valley," Flikkema said Friday. "There are very little crops that will be harvested out of the area."

Flikkema said the damage could approach $50 million, even without taking into consideration what happened to 5,000 acres of potatoes.

Most of the grain crops are used for seed, meaning there could be a shortage of seed to plant next year, he said.

The storm started in southwestern Montana, where wind gusts up to 104 mph were recorded in Polaris, northwest of Dillon, causing major damage to homes and some trees, the National Weather Service reported.

Betty Barnes of Polaris said she lost several trees, including a big one that fell near her driveway.

"I said to myself, 'Well, thanks, God, for the firewood and for protecting my house,'" Barnes told The Montana Standard.

Strong winds and possibly a tornado caused severe damage in Twin Bridges, uprooting trees and blowing the roof off at least one building.

A weather service representative was expected to visit Twin Bridges on Friday to determine if a tornado had touched down, said Steve DiGiovanna of Madison County Disaster and Emergency Services.

Some falling trees damaged historic buildings, including the museum, and the roof was ripped off a veterinary clinic outside of Twin Bridges. An airport hangar was destroyed, a travel trailer was crushed by falling trees, and a grandstand at the Madison County Fairgrounds was flipped over and destroyed, he said.

Twin Bridges Mayor Tom Hyndman said the wind also uprooted a large spruce tree that is decorated every year for the town's Christmas Stroll.

Golf-ball sized hail fell across much of Belgrade and the northern part of Bozeman, the weather service reported.

NWS meteorologist Todd Chambers of Billings said the storm began in the southwestern part of the state Thursday afternoon and moved east, causing damage as far away as Billings.

The "long-lived, long-path" storm was unusual for this time of year, he said.

In eastern Montana, a funnel cloud was reported near Acton, northwest of Billings, where at least four mobile homes were destroyed and at least three more were damaged by apparent straight-line winds gusting up to 90 mph.

The Billings Gazette reports the wind picked up two of the trailers in a trailer park, with one of them being tossed into a neighboring trailer.

Duane Cowdin lost his garage to the storm, which he said scattered debris "from hell to breakfast."

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