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Hurricane-force winds, hail and tornadoes caused an estimated $1 million damage in northeast Montana over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

The Friday night storm near Circle mangled grain elevators, toppled high-voltage transmission towers, peeled roofs, stomped crops and shattered windows.

Winds were clocked at 112 mph at the Circle Airport, said Tanja Fransen, a National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist in Glasgow.

“When you get golf ball-size hail and 100 mph wind, you’re going to be in trouble,” Fransen said.

The storm has been the capstone weather event in a July marked with violent atmospheric occurrences. The National Weather Service office in Glasgow has issued 126 weather warnings this month, a 400 percent increase from the 25 issued in June, Fransen said. There were no weather warnings issued in May for northeast Montana.

Powerful storm cells have also been barraging southeastern Montana, said David Lancaster, disaster and emergency services coordinator for Powder River County.

“It’s almost an every night thing right now,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t hit where you’re at, it’s hitting one of your neighbors.”

Although damage reports are still being compiled, Friday’s storm near Circle was likely the strongest of the season in Eastern Montana, officials said.

A rancher southeast of Circle reported the winds were strong enough to move the family pickup truck 20 to 30 feet. Vehicle windshields were shattered by softball-sized hail.

Between Circle and Lindsay, 25 high voltage transmission line towers were knocked over, said Brad Warren, manager of the Western Area Power Administration’s maintenance office at Fort Peck. The steel towers are about 100 feet tall and support 230,000-volt transmission cables carrying power from Fort Peck to electric cooperatives throughout Eastern Montana and parts of North Dakota.

Damage to the towers is estimated at $500,000. Replacing the towers will likely take six months, Warren said.

Eastern Montana didn’t go totally dark, however, because power was immediately rerouted from a generation facility in North Dakota, Warren said.

Power was knocked out between Jordan and Glendive Friday night when at least 42 power poles near Lindsay were snapped by the winds, said Larry Schmidt, line foreman with McCone Electric Cooperative, which serves 2,433 members. Most of the power was restored late Friday night. Electricity was fully restored by 7 p.m. Saturday.

“We’ve worked around the clock, some guys worked 36 hours straight,” Schmidt said.

Crops and crop storage facilities were also damaged.

Between Circle and Lindsay, a 20-mile stretch of grain fields was crushed by the hail and wind, Fransen said.

“There’s 100 percent crop damage,” she said. “It’s completely gone.”

Three steel grain storage bins in Circle were crushed by the winds, a fourth was severely damaged, said Jess Beery, with the Farmers Elevator Company. The 65-foot-tall bins were constructed in 1997 and each were capable of holding 36,000 bushels. Insurance adjusters are working on damage estimates, which will be in the six-figure range, Beery said.

The storm also shattered windows and peeled off entire roofs in Circle, Beery said.

A family from New Hampshire was driving through the area when hail shattered their vehicle’s windows, Beery said. Although power was out, a family from Circle offered to help the stranded travelers. Using a portable generator to power a vacuum, broken glass was sucked from the damaged car, allowing the motorists to return to the highway, Beery said.

In southeastern Montana, hail has also damaged dozens of houses, Lancaster said. Hail that pummeled Broadus Wednesday and Sunday night was powerful enough to not only break through windows, but shatter television sets inside of houses, he said.

“Just about everybody in town seems like they’ve had some kind of damage,” he said.

Daily thunderstorms have also saturated the soils across Eastern Montana, causing flash floods in many areas, Fransen said. Saturday evening storms brought 80 mph winds and caused flooding along the Hi-Line, including in Malta.

The weather pattern causing the storms is not likely to end soon, she said.

“It’s going to stay pretty active, it looks like for a few weeks,” Fransen said.James Hagengruber can be reached at 657-1232 or at jhagengruber@billingsgazette.com

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