- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - Straps are stretched over the roof of a house and connected to chains on the ground so it doesn’t blow away.

The grocery store has a new roof. Wind ripped the old roof off a few years ago.

Last summer, a wind-driven wildfire burst out of the mountains, prompting the evacuation of the town.

This is Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation on the Rocky Mountain Front, which continually breathes strong winds on downslope communities, especially in the fall and winter, reported the Great Falls Tribune (https://gftrib.com/2eGOI2V).

Clarence Comes At Night lives here. Wind is constant, he said, but he’s adapted.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Comes At Night said as the wind blew hard enough to require a little bit of effort to push open a car door. “You kind of get used to it.”

In central Montana west to the Continental Divide, most of the windiest locations are in or just to the lee or downwind side of the Rocky Mountain Front or island mountain ranges.

“It has to do with the downslope effect,” Dave Bernhardt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, says of the high winds coming off the Rocky Mountains. “You have an acceleration effect as it comes down the lee side.”

Strongest winds are November through February.

In the 2011-12 windy season, the wind blew at least 75 mph on 80 different occasions along the Rocky Mountain Front.

That same year, the wind blew 90 mph more than 20 times and 100 mph 11 times.

In Heart Butte, average wind speed for November and December is 12.7 mph and 14.1 mph in January, its windiest month.

For those months, that makes Heart Butte less windy than Great Falls, which is also known for its strong fall and winter winds, based on the best available data.

But Bernhardt notes that the Heart Butte wind speed numbers are based on only 10 years of collected data, not 30 years, the benchmark for accurate collection of data on weather elements.

“Heart Butte is a windy location,” Bernhardt said.

A wind sensor used to be located on top of a house in Heart Butte, but the wind kept blowing it over, Bernhardt said.

A gust of 133 mph on Jan. 29, 1979, in Heart Butte is a state record wind gust for the month.

Choteau, another Front community with a windy reputation, owns its own monthly wind gust record, 124 mph on Nov. 15, 2006.

“It’s pretty easy to check the wind looking at the trees and the flag over at the Forest Service,” Gary Betcher, a Choteau resident, said at his home Choteau.

The flag was flapping horizontally.

Betcher pulled out a copy of the Beaufort Wind Scale developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort of the U.K. Royal Navy to gauge wind speed. On land, that scale says that the wind is 22 mph to 27 mph if larger tree branches are moving and wires are whistling.

“Probably 25,” said Betcher, estimating wind speed on that day.

Massive cottonwood trees surrounding his house made a constant rustling sound.

An anemometer once measured wind speed from the top of his house.

“I couldn’t keep it on the top of the house,” Betcher said. “The wind would blow it off.”

Betcher, a former science teacher, is a weather observer for the National Weather Service. He checks temperature precipitation and also records damaging winds.

“Which happens here at least once a year,” Betcher said.

The closer one goes toward the mountains, he says, the windier it gets, especially in the canyons.

When he coached football, players could handle the cold, even the snow.

“But if the wind was blowing you might as well send them home because they turned into dunderheads,” Betcher said.

The wind doesn’t bother him, he said. Not much one can do about it anyway, he said.

Karl Rosston of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, the state’s suicide prevention officer, said he hasn’t seen much research that shows wind affects mood, but he wouldn’t doubt that it does.

“I know how I feel in the wind,” he said.

There’s strong evidence that vitamin D deficiencies due to a lack of sunlight is a bigger factor on moods in Montana, he said.

“That’s the primary one we see in the Rocky Mountain region especially in states like Montana and Alaska and Wyoming,” he said.

Last August, the constant wind at Heart Butte picked up and turned a small wildfire in Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest into a raging inferno that raced out of the mountains to the edge of town forcing its evacuation.

“It was scary,” Comes At Night said.

Comes At Night, a student at the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, doesn’t complain about the wind, even as he points out missing shingles on roofs.

“Even the plant life has adapted to the wind,” he says.

Quaking aspen trees, he notes, begin life growing straight but gradually bend into an S-shape to withstand the prevailing west and southwest winds, he said.

After a stint attending the University of Montana in Missoula, where the yearly average wind speed is a barely noticeable 5.6 mph, Comes At Night returned to Heart Butte.

“I had to readjust to the wind,” he said.

___

Information from: Great Falls Tribune, https://www.greatfallstribune.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide