The sound of chainsaws, heavy machinery and generators filled the air over the weekend in Twin Bridges after a powerful thunderstorm that produced winds as strong as 90 miles per hour struck the town late Thursday afternoon and caused an un-estimated amount of damage.
An investigation by the National Weather Service determined that the damage was caused by straight-line winds and not by a tornado, which was reportedly captured on video by a Twin Bridges resident. Deputy Director of Emergency Management, Steve DiGiovanna, said he spent three hours with the investigator as he looked at the video and assessed the damage in and around the town.
“I am please nobody was hurt,” DiGiovanna said. “There was more damage than I originally thought there was. It spread almost as far as Beaverhead Rock, Hells Canyon and over to Sheridan.”
Madison County dispatchers put out an emergency warning before the storm hit. The storm came on very, very suddenly after travelling through the southwest portion of Beaverhead County. County officials estimate that it took only 30 minutes or less for the storm to move over Twin Bridges.
“It was like someone turned on an air hose,” Jeremy Smith of Twin Bridges said. He was working at Main Street Market when the storm hit. He made sure to warn customers and people passing by to take shelter.
Jenny Konopacki with the Twin Bridges Volunteer Fire Department said the department’s pages were not working after the storm, so calls came in by word of mouth.
Trees were uprooted throughout the town and surrounding area and some fell into structures, causing severe damage to several historic buildings on and near Main Street. The museum was significantly damaged. An airport hangar was destroyed by the winds and a $40,000 aluminum grandstand was flipped over and destroyed at the Madison County Fairgrounds. Other damage occurred throughout the fairgrounds property.
Crews began work immediately once the storm died down. They removed debris and worked on restoring power throughout the first night. Power was not restored to all area residents until Sunday.
“People immediately started showing up and clearing stuff away,” Roger Thompson, Madison County Undersheriff, said. “There was tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage just at the fairgrounds. There could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage total in the area.”
Three people near Goodrich Gulch reported that they were trapped Friday afternoon. Hundreds of trees fell on the road, making it impossible to drive on.
A few businesses remained open Friday afternoon despite the power being out. Main Street Market and the Blue Anchor Bar had their doors open, while others like the Wagon Wheel and The Shack joined Main Street Market in providing food and drinks for volunteers. Employees at the market used a battery-powered calculator for their transactions. They stayed open in hopes that they could sell perishable items before they went bad.
The storm’s pea and marble sized hail continued over the Tobacco Root Mountains, but thankfully the winds died down before more damage could be done in the Harrison area.
Appraisers from the Montana Department of Revenue visited Twin Bridges on Friday. They helped assess property damage of homes and businesses to help with long-term recovery, according to Mary Ann Dunwell, DOR Public Information Officer.
There are three ways the public can obtain a natural disaster application for property tax relief. Visit the DOR website at www.revenue.mt.gov and click on the natural disaster icon on the left. The public can also contact DOR’s Madison County office at 843-5630 and they will mail, fax or email an application. Applications are available at the Madison County department office at 5 Placer Loop in Virginia City.