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Lightning over Billings

A round of powerful thunderstorms is expected to blow through pretty much all of Montana east of the Continental Divide early Thursday evening, with damaging winds, large hail, torrential rain and frequent lightning strikes possible.

In the Billings area, the fast-moving wave of storms is expected to hit around 6 p.m. and last for about an hour, said Aaron Gilstad, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Billings.

Speaking Thursday morning, he noted that the timing could shift a bit over the course of the day, and recommended residents have a way to receive emergency alerts from the weather agency — such as AM/FM radios, televisions or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration apps for smart phones.

While short-lived, the storms could pack a punch as they roar across the flatter portions of Montana, Gilstad said. Hail could reach tennis-ball proportions, similar to the lumps of ice that shattered windshields and pummeled other property in Roundup last week.

The weather service had received multiple reports of funnel clouds in the Roundup area as part of that storm, and Gilstad said tornadoes will again be possible throughout Eastern Montana Thursday evening.

"The atmosphere is very unstable and very ripe for severe weather, so chances are as good as any other time up here," he said.

He also warned that residents should seek shelter if they're outside when the weather starts to shift. The system is expected to bring heavy lightning activity with it.

"People really need to be conscious of lightning safety today," Gilstad said. "If you can hear thunder, get moving inside. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from where it's actually occurring."

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Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.