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90 mph winds take out large trees, power lines

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LAKE COUNTY – A winter windstorm blew through the valley on Wednesday, Jan. 13, damaging homes and cars, downing power lines and toppling massive trees.

The National Weather Service reported wind gusts across northwestern Montana moving up to over 90 mph during the day. Mild damage included a slew of empty trashcans being blown over. U.S. Highway 35, along East Shore of Flathead Lake, was closed from Polson to Bigfork due to high winds and a tree down at Woods Bay, milepost 25.

Tree expert and owner of Jennison Tree and Landscaping, in Polson, Justin Jennison, was outside with his crew when the winds started getting dangerous. “We saw the pine trees swaying, big time,” he said. “We decided to go home and wait out the storm. It was just too unsafe to be out working on trees.” 

In the Polson area, Jennison said the storm caused trees to fall on cars, houses and fences. He saw power lines down as well. “The large majority of tree damage was in Polson and at Finley Point. Tree damage was also reported further down the valley in St. Ignatius and Arlee. 

“I was quite surprised to see that a 100-foot plus Ponderosa pine fell out on Meadowlark Lane, between Big Arm and Elmo. Pine trees don’t blow down as often, so it must have been a strong storm.”

After the storm, Jennison received “a lot of calls” for downed trees. Other trees were hit hard enough by the wind to be lifted out of the ground,enough to cause their roots to show. “We will probably be working on cleaning up the damage for a couple weeks,” he said.

Jennison started a career in tree work 17 years ago and called Wednesday’s storm “medium” in comparison to others he has experienced in the area. “We had a really bad storm last year that really destroyed a lot of trees along highway 35. Storms are common in Montana, especially when the seasons change. In general, it’s a good idea to look up and pay attention to the trees and make sure they are healthy before a storm hits.”  

At Polson Bay Golf Course, around 12 old trees went down throughout the day. Cleanup efforts are underway. Others reported power outages on the windy Wednesday. Mission Valley Power posted on Facebook that it was “super windy out” and employees were working hard to restore power. They worked all day and into the following day to repair storm damage. “Our outage map is still showing 57 customers still out - that is down from over 5,000 yesterday,” MVP posted the day after the storm. 

Dozens of MVP customers posted “thank you” notes saying they appreciated the prompt service. Another person posted a “thank you” to the Lake County 911 Dispatch for “all the hard working men and women who answered all the 911 calls due to the crazy weather we had.”

MVP reminds people not to go near downed power lines or try and remove limbs or debris at any time: “Please stay away from them. Do not try and clean them up. It could be dangerous.”  

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