- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - A thunderstorm that blew across northern Montana brought strong winds and large hail that caused property and crop damage and power outages along a 300-mile stretch of the state from Cut Bank to Fort Peck.

Straight-line winds blew at speeds of up to 90 mph and hail as large as ping pong balls fell on Saturday night, uprooting trees, flattening crops, damaging buildings and breaking windows, the National Weather Service said. The storm caused Havre to postpone its fireworks show until Sunday, the Havre Daily News reported.

Rancher Bim Strauser said a calving barn was “pretty much totally destroyed,” on his ranch in northern Hill County and that the winds picked up 1,000-pound straw bales and tossed them around.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Strauser told the Great Falls Tribune. A neighbor lost a shop, he said.

Two Hutterite colonies north of Havre reported crop damage, and National Weather Service meteorologists reported crop damage across the area.

The strong winds knocked over power poles, causing power outages for about 8,000 NorthWestern Energy customers, spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said. The outage stretched from Fort Benton north to Chester and then east to Harlem. Service was restored throughout the day on Sunday, but in some cases with temporary fixes that require further repairs, Rapkoch said.

About two dozen pole structures on the transmission line system were damaged along with about a half-dozen power poles on the distribution lines, Rapkoch said.

Big Flat Electric, which serves rural areas in Phillips and Blaine counties, had nearly three dozen transmission poles downed, line foreman Darren Demarais said. Service to 350 customers was restored Monday morning.

Strong winds blew several empty grain cars off the tracks south of Havre, BNSF Railway spokesman Matt Jones said. The cars were being stored on the line, which carries no commercial traffic.

While several people around the area reported seeing tornadoes, meteorologist Megan VanDenHuevel said they were unable to confirm any.

They found “straight-line wind damage, where the damage was facing in a similar direction,” she said. The train cars were also tipped in the same direction, VanDenHuevel noted

That doesn’t mean there weren’t tornadoes associated with the storm, just that meteorologists couldn’t find any evidence of one, she said.

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