Tuesday, January 26, 2021
10.0°F

Thousands without power; gusts top 100 mph

by MATT BALDWIN
Daily Inter Lake | January 13, 2021 9:00 AM

A powerful Pacific storm left thousands of homes without power across Northwest Montana on Wednesday as wind gusts topped 100 mph in some areas.

A wind advisory was issued for the Flathead and Mission valleys through 6 p.m. Southwest winds 30 to 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph, were expected in the valleys. The damaging winds had the potential to blow down trees and power lines, the National Weather Service in Missoula warned. Travel on U.S. 93 and I-90 was expected to be very difficult due to strong crosswinds.

Power outages impacted more than 16,000 Flathead Electric Co-op customers Wednesday morning. Co-op members east of Libby and along U.S. 2 west of Kalispell were without power, as well as areas in the Badrock Canyon and near West Glacier. An outage in Whitefish caused by downed trees affected more than 1,500 homes, and another south of Lake Blaine affected 430 customers.

"We anticipate working through the night and into tomorrow to restore power to all," The Electric Co-op posted on its website Wednesday afternoon. "We were unable to secure mutual aid due to the fact that other co-ops are experiencing widespread outages as well. With 4,900 miles of line, and trees falling on those lines in rapid succession due to high winds, our crews have a great deal of ground to cover. Dispatchers and crews are responding almost exclusively to emergency situations at this time."

People without power can call (406) 751-4449 or visit https://www.flatheadelectric.com/outage/ for more information.

The winds began picking up early Wednesday morning as the front moved across the region.

A wind gust on Mount Aeneas was clocked at 101 mph at 7 a.m., and a gust on Hornet Mountain in the Whitefish Range hit 96 mph. Blacktail Ski Area near Lakeside closed for the day due to wind, while Whitefish Mountain Resort shut down its main chairlift to the summit of Big Mountain.

In the Mission Valley, Polson clocked a gust at 69 mph.

Prior to the wind, Northwest Montana was hit with valley rain and heavy mountain snow. The combination of copious precipitation and extreme wind set up dangerous avalanche conditions for Northwest Montana mountain ranges. An avalanche warning issued by the Flathead Avalanche Center expires Thursday.

“Recent heavy snow combined with wind has created widespread areas of unstable snow,” the Avalanche Center warned. “Loading from intense snowfall and wind will continue” through Thursday.

Travel on and below steep slopes was not recommended, and avalanches may run long distances.

The extreme gusts were predicted to diminish after sunset, the Weather Service noted in its forecast. More seasonable weather is expected in the coming days, with a potential for much colder and snowier weather late next week.

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Waves crash into the rocky shoreline of Flathead Lake at Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork on Wednesday, Jan. 13. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Beth Woods, left, and Shannon Amaral, with their dogs Murphy and Madison, take pictures of the waves rolling across Flathead Lake at Wayfarers State Park in Bigfork on Wednesday, Jan. 13. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Crews from Glacier National Park clear a tree from across the Going-to-the-Sun Road Wednesday morning. There were numerous trees down and power outages in the Canyon area as a windstorm blew through. (Chris Peterson photo)