SHERIDAN — A storm ripped down the east side of the Bighorn Mountains Wednesday evening producing gusts of wind up to 75 mph and causing widespread destruction around town.
On Interstate 90, semi-trailers, trees and an overturned trailer house interrupted traffic flow near Ranchester, the port of entry and Sheridan.
In town, several fires were caused by downed power lines. Sheridan Fire-Rescue and Goose Valley Volunteer Fire Department both received multiple calls. SFR had its entire crew of 14 firefighters working to control fires around town.
Montana-Dakota Utilities reported that thousands of customers throughout the county were without power for several hours.
Meteorologist Joe Lester from the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana, said the storm was not strong in regards to rain or hail, but that the conditions were just right Wednesday to produce unusually strong winds for the area.
“You had a storm that collapsed on the east side of the Bighorn Mountains that produced lots of wind in Sheridan, Big Horn, Ranchester and all those areas at the foothills,” Lester said.
As storms weaken, they produce wind, Lester said. The storm that “fell apart” on the Bighorn Mountains produced wind that was strengthened by the hot, dry conditions Wednesday. With temperatures topping 90 degrees, rapid evaporation caused the wind speed to increase as it ripped toward the valley below.
Peak winds were recorded at 75 mph between 4:35 and 5 p.m.
“Sheridan was the hot spot yesterday,” Lester said, noting that other cities in the surrounding region did not experience such extreme weather.
Lester said all the wind was straight line wind coming off the mountain and that no tornadoes occurred.
In addition to wind, the region is fighting flooding due to snow melt, Lester said. Big Goose and Little Goose creeks are on the rise, and Connor Battlefield Park in Ranchester has already flooded, closing nearby Wolf Creek Road.
There is potential for heavy rains through Monday as a slow-moving storm system moves through the area this weekend. Thunderstorms could be strong to severe, Lester said. Residents should prepare by moving plants indoors and filling sand bags if they live near creeks or other waters that could rise with rain and snow melt accumulations.
Lester also urged residents to be careful near stream banks as water is moving fast and banks are eroding and less stable.
“The snow is still melting out, so flooding will be an issue for the forseeable future, with or without rain,” Lester said. “Weekend storms could produce heavy rain, so that could be a problem in areas seeing high stream levels.”