GREAT FALLS — The powerful winds rocking most of Montana today are causing widespread damage. The National Weather Service in Great Falls said: "If there is any way you can avoid travel for the remainder of the afternoon across north-central and central Montana, please do so. This is an extreme wind event even for this area."
The strongest wind gust recorded in Great Falls as of early Wednesday afternoon was 76 miles per hour; stronger gusts have been recorded in other areas, notably along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain Front.
The Fort Benton Police Department says that Highway 87 has been closed between Great Falls and Fort Benton. The powerful winds are kicking up dust and dirt, causing very poor visibility along Highway 87. There have been gusts of more than 70 miles per hour across the region. The agency posted the information on Facebook just before noon on Wednesday. They also said that there are trees down and roofs of buildings have blown off.
Great Falls Fire Rescue says that a second alarm has been called in town to bring more firefighters in to deal with emergencies caused by the strong winds. We have received several reports of small wind-whipped grass fires in the area, and there have been reports of scattered power outages in and around Great Falls.
We have also received several reports of semi trucks blown over along I-15 near Shelby.
Lincoln Volunteer Fire Rescue posted: "Lines and trees are down all over. Be careful and don't approach any lines. It will run thru the ice and snow and can be deadly. Secure anything that can blow away. Roofs are being blown off in areas."
The National Weather Service in Missoula reported that a 125 mph wind gust was recorded on the west face of Mount Sentinel. Missoula Electric Cooperative says more than 4,300 members were in the dark as of 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday. The larger outages were being reported in the Bonner, Frenchtown and Tarkio areas. Additionally, several outages were being seen in the Condon and Seeley Lake areas.
Flathead Electric Cooperative says the number of customer without power is more than 13,000. The larger outages were being reported in the West Glacier, Whitefish Lake, and Libby areas -- as well as in the Kalispell areas.