HELENA, Mont. (AP) — 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 crops are seed crops, 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.
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. DiGiovanna said he thought he saw a funnel cloud touch down.
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 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, north of Billings, and there was another unconfirmed report of a tornado in Broadview, Chambers said.
Golf-ball-sized hail was reported in parts of Billings, as well. A tree on the West End caught fire after being struck by lightning.
The storm knocked out power along its path and crews were still working Friday morning to restore service.
A second set of storms moved through the Helena. Over an inch of rain fell in a swath, moving northeast from an area near the city through eastern Chouteau County, the weather service said.