While flash floods — and tornadoes — seemed to have missed this part of Montana, severe storms Wednesday night caused plenty of damage, knocking down trees, blowing over vehicles and causing fires.
National Weather Service had issued a flash flood watch, warning that high levels of rain dropped by a system of storms that blew across the state Wednesday afternoon and evening could run off of ground saturated by the rains in May and earlier this month that caused severe flooding.
The Weather Channel had also forecast that tornadoes were possible in an area ranging from Gildford past Harlem and south to Loma.
While some areas were drenched — a weather spotter in Browning reported 4 inches of rain in two hours — the main problem in this region was wind and lightning.
The reporting station west of Havre at the City-County Airport reported .69 inches of rain for Havre in the last 24 hours, but wind gusts ranged from 59 to 70 mph in the area.
Havre firefighters extinguished two lightning-caused house fires, and responded with NorthWestern Energy to an arcing power line, while officials dealt with blown over trees starting last night.
Havre Public Works Director Dave Peterson said this morning that workers from his department were out Wednesday night picking up trees and tree branches, and are continuing today.
That includes one tree blowing over and blocking Fifth Avenue.
“It’s all over town,” he added.
And it extended through the region. A caller at 9:06 p.m. reported another tree blown over and blocking Montana Highway 234 — Beaver Creek Highway — in Beaver Creek Park.
A fire at 10 p.m. could have led to major damage when a lightning strike sent electricity down the wiring of a house on 19th Street, melting the ignitor of a gas fireplace and the resulting fire melted the gasline.
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said a neighbor was able to shut off the gas line for the house, and the firefighters only had to deal with a structure fire when they arrived.
The house sustained structural damage — the fire was mostly inside a wall — but the family escaped injury.
Another fire was reported by a NorthWestern Energy employee on 3rd Street at 2:42 a.m. The employee was investigating a report of a power outage due to a lightning strike and saw smoke coming from the attic.
The firefighters extinguished the fire, with the family which was sleeping inside the building escaping injury. The house sustained minor damage, Sheppard said.
U.S. Highway 2 four miles east of Chester was shut down for a time Wednesday night when a pickup pulling a fifth-wheel was blown over by the wind. KRTV reported that no injuries were known from that crash.
Hail also was reported, from pea-sized to stones measuring .88 inches across one spotter near Big Sandy reported.
Spotters reported wind gusts across the region ranging from 59 mph to a 70 mph gust near Big Sandy.
A huge tree blown over during Wednesday’s storm lies on 5th Avenue Thursday morning.
Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Joe Parenteau said this morning that he had not yet received official reports of damage across the county, but he had heard of damage including houses struck by lightning, trees blown down, vehicles blown over and a grain bin blowing across U.S. Highway 2 west of Havre.
But, while the Weather Service website says a spotter reported a funnel cloud 10 miles from White Sulphur Springs, this area dodged that bullet along with the flash floods.
“It was an interesting storm. The (tornado) potential was definitely there,” Parenteau said.
The National Weather Service had extended flood warnings for the area through 11:30 this morning. And the Weather Service forecast calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms, including possible gusty winds, through the weekend with the highest forecast for rain Saturday. Weather Service predicts showers and possible afternoon thunderstorms for that day, with a 60 percent chance of precipitation.