The high winds — with gusts up to 114 mph — that buffeted Teton County on Feb. 12 caused widespread property damage but did not injure anyone, officials reported Monday.
Teton County Undersheriff Denny Blauer said property damage included downed trees and power lines, snapped power poles, roof damage ranging from a few shingles gone to whole roofs blown off, damage to building siding and windows, damage to vehicles hit by falling debris, blown over fences, and damage to haystacks, irrigation pivots and wheel lines.
The high winds, predicted by the National Weather Service, began picking up in Choteau shortly after noon on Saturday. A measuring station at Eureka Reservoir clocked an average wind speed of 50 mph from 3:53 p.m. to about 5:30 p.m. with temperatures at a high of 52 degrees. That same station recorded wind gusts of 70 mph at 3:48 p.m. and 79 mph at 4:29 p.m.
Up the Blackleaf Canyon west of Bynum, a measuring station on the Dellwo ranch recorded sustained winds of above 60 mph for several hours and a peak gust of 95 mph at about 3 p.m.
In Choteau, Harold Yeager at the Choteau airport recorded gusts of 89 mph, 101 mph and at about 5 p.m. one at 114 mph. That gust tore the cups off his measuring gauge, breaking the machine.
The wind was worst on Saturday afternoon and night, and began subsiding on Sunday with a relative calm back by mid-afternoon.
Choteau Public Works Director Kelly Hirsch, who had city crewmen out working Saturday afternoon and evening to clear limbs from city streets and sidewalks, said he suspects there were gusts of more than 120 mph to have caused some of the structural damage he saw. “They were bad winds,” he said.
Between about 7 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday the wind gusts tore a 30-foot by 40-foot section of metal roof off the northwest corner of the American Legion Building on First Street Northwest. The wind sucked up the section and slammed it down on the corner of Main Avenue North and First Street, wrapping the metal and two-by-fours around a Canadian chokecherry boulevard tree and a street light post right outside the Choteau Drug building.
Elsewhere in Choteau, the wind blew the south-facing door of a large metal shop building owned by Ross Triol in and slammed the doors into the back side of the shop, buckling the north-end wall. At the Choteau baseball complex, the wind knocked flat a cinder block dug out. The Jaycee Hall lost many shingles off the west side of its roof and a metal storage building at Front Range Supply had both sliding metal doors torn off.
In Bynum, the wind tore much of the roof off the north side of The Rock Shop gift store and tore about four decks of horizontal siding off the north side of the Bynum Elementary School.
The high winds closed the Teton Pass Ski Resort on Saturday and Sunday. In Choteau on Saturday night, the whole town lost power at about 8:30 p.m., plunging those attending the Choteau versus Rocky Boy high school basketball games into pitch darkness in the high school gym.
With a little more than four minutes left in the boys’ game, the referees called the contest for Rocky Boy (leading 50-32), and people, aided by the light of cell phones, pen lights and flashlights, filed carefully out of the bleachers and building. The high winds forced the Rocky Boy girls and boys teams to spend the night at the Stage Stop Inn in Choteau as it was too dangerous to operate the high-profile school buses.
The Choteau school officials also directed the high school wrestling team at the state tournament in Hamilton to stay overnight in Missoula because of hazardous driving conditions.
Power lines across the highway closed Secondary Highway 220 (the Agawam Highway) from about 6:30 p.m. Saturday night to mid-day on Sunday.
Hirsch said it will probably take a couple of weeks for the Choteau city crew to get all the tree limbs and debris cleaned away. “I would say that every three to five years we have a major wind event that takes down trees,” he noted.
Office workers at Northern Montana Insurance Services and Pioneer Insurance in Choteau on Monday both said they were receiving calls from customers who were repormetalg wind damage.
Angie Neill at NMIS said that their company had received 28 calls by mid-day Monday, mostly from homeowners, repormetalg damage to shingles, rain gutters, siding and windows. Neill said callers also said the wind knocked down trees, blew a grain auger over, took the roof off the cab of a tractor and blew a tractor door off. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so busy,” she said, adding that the phone was conmetaluing to ring.
Becky Larson at Pioneer Insurance, said she had taken calls mostly in regard to roof damage, but one farmer called in damage to his wheel line.
Blauer said the regular staff at the Sheriff’s Office supplemented by a reserve deputy and Sheriff Keith VanSetten worked the storm, responding to calls with the Choteau Volunteer Fire Department and NorthWestern Energy and Sun River Electric Cooperative.
Teton County Fire Chief Joe Zahara said the Choteau VFD handled most of the calls during the wind storm. He said the Pendroy Rural VFD was paged out for a chimney fire that was quickly put out. Dutton, Fairfield and Power were not paged out.
Choteau, however, had about 20 crew members working throughout the evening. They were divided up into three crews and worked with the sheriff’s deputies to repond to calls, most of which involved arcing power lines. They also responded to a gas leak in a 16-inch main line near Farmington, caused when the wind blew over the outbuilding sheltering the pipes. Northwestern Energy also responded.
Zahara said Choteau also responded to a grass fire south of Choteau that started when a week-old controlled burn flared up again. Firefighters helped the homeowner douse the fire.
Choteau Fire Chief Gary Betcher said the firefighters were either on calls or on standby for about four and a half hours, from about 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
“We really were lucky that we did not have more damage here,” he said, specifically nometalg that despite all the wind and downed lines there were no electricity-sparked fires. “It certainly had the potential to be a catastrophe,” he said.
Choteau American Legion Cmdr. Bob Herzog on Monday said the organization’s insurance adjuster had already come and inspected the building. Legion members cleaned up the roof remnants and debris on Sunday. “I’ve lived here most of my life,” Herzog said. “I’ve never seen constant winds like that with the gusts.”
John Brandvold, owner of The Rock Shop in Bynum, said the roof on The Rock Shop started tearing off on the northwest corner during one of the bigger gusts. “It tore the wood structure of the corner of the shop up, and then it just started peeling the roof back like a sardine can,” he said.
Brandvold said the wind was blowing so hard that it blew dry puddles of melmetalg snow water, but even though it was a bad storm, he doesn’t think it’s the worst Bynum has seen.
“I’ve seen worse when it blew two of my barns away,” he said. What made this storm so bad was that the gusts were so abrupt. “That’s what really made it tear things apart,” he added.
His building is not insured, but a contractor who looked at it on Monday estimated $4,500 in repair costs and plans to start work on Tuesday.
“You’ve got to have a good attitude,” Brandvold said. “It could have been a lot worse. Somebody could have gotten hurt.”
The line crews for NorthWestern Energy and SREC were both busy over the weekend, responding mostly to power line problems, including arcing lines, snapped poles, and trees or other debris in power lines.
Claudia Rapkoch, a spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy, said her company had crews out across the state all weekend responding to scattered outages, mainly caused by the wind. NorthWestern serves Choteau, which was without power from about 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Power was also out in Dutton and Fairfield for varying amounts of time.
In some cases, Rapkoch said, the wind was blowing so hard the crews could not go up in bucket trucks to make fixes. “This was certainly a pretty strong wind event,” she said.
SREC Operations Manager Robert Anderson of Fairfield said all of the company’s crews were out on Saturday, starmetalg at 3 a.m. when a transmission line pole that serves Augusta and the area went down. That outage lasted for about five hours and was the longest, affecmetalg 700 to 800 people.
SREC also responded to outages around rural Choteau, Pendroy, Bynum, Valier, Dupuyer and Conrad. The company lost seven power poles, including two transmission poles and five distribution lines, Anderson said. Most of the outages lasted about three hours, he noted.
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