Hail storm pounds Roy

Jenny Gessaman


hail had melted and the winds died down, but the town of Roy still showed scars Monday as shingles and branches littered front yards and plywood windows adorned homes. The debris and temporary patches were remnants of Friday’s severe storm and the damage it brought to Central Montana.


Farms and livestock damaged

Outside of Roy’s 108 residents, many others saw the storm from David Wright’s view. Posted Friday night on Wright’s Facebook page, his video of golf-ball sized hail shattering living room windows went viral, reaching over 31,000 views by Monday evening.

Wright lives outside Roy with his wife and daughter, managing the Klessen ranch and running Rafter NZ Ranch and Performance Horses. His wife was in Utah, his daughter was in town and the horses were in the corral next to the barn when the storm hit.

“We’ve got probably $400,000 worth of horses that got hammered over there,” he said.

Wright had been weather watching all day, keeping the weather radar on his computer screen while he periodically drove up a nearby hill to scan for storms. Several had broken earlier in the day, and he expected the evening’s weather to do the same.

“And then the wind stopped, and I could just hear this massive roar,” Wright said. “That’s when I knew we were in trouble.”

The working horses were gathered in the corral when hail fell. Wright had not put them in the barn because of the afternoon’s false alarms, and now he was trapped in the house as the ice pelted his animals. After the storm, Wright discovered shelter might not have helped.

“The roof of the barn got trashed, too,” Wright said. “I don’t know if they’d have been any safer inside.”

The animals walked away, but all had welts and several had minor eye injuries. His daughter’s mare was hit by part of the corral during the storm. Despite the damage, he said the animals were healing well.

The cattle also checked out, but the property didn’t. Wright’s house has broken windows, boarded skylights and ruined siding. Two livestock trailers were severely damaged, as well as his daughter’s truck and two ranch vehicles. Between the healing horses and uninjured family, though, Wright felt lucky.

“As bad as it is, there’s someone worse off than you are,” he said.

If debris had been the only indicator of destruction, Glen and Dollie Rindal might have won the worst-off award from their neighbors.

“We lost most of the shop,” Glen said. “The wind took the tin and it scattered it from here all the way across the highway.”

One wall, a cement pad and various tools are all that remain standing of the couple’s 60-by-80 foot shop. The Rindalls have worked hard to collect the debris from the area, including the pieces that went through their new shop. Relatives gathered to help Glen and Dollie gather the pieces 

“I’ve been cleaning up for two days,” he said.

The couple listed all the neighbors along the highway they knew were doing the same.

“You can just start naming people,” Glen said, bopping his finger along an imaginary road.


New house, 

new problems

Bret Smith was getting ready to head home Friday night when he saw the storm. Fresh off an afternoon of roping, he hurried his horses into their trailer and jumped in the cab of his truck.

“We looked this way and saw a wall of hail coming,” Smith said.

Bret pointed the tail end of the trailer to the wind, hoping to shield his truck. While he was waiting, his wife Renae called. The first call cut off, but during the second she told him there was a tree in the dining room.  

Renae had been eating ice cream with the couple’s two children when the hail started. She was moving the kids away from the window when she heard a loud crack, followed by a tree crashing through the house.

A branch skinned Renae’s nose, but she had a safe hold on 1.5-year-old Collee and her high chair. 3-year-old Callan climbed out from the branches with a scratch on his arm.

The Smiths bought the doublewide trailer last July, and the family moved in mid-January with one room left to finish. The storm and the tree destroyed the roof over the dining room and part of their son’s room. Hail took out windows and siding.

Bret worked until 11 p.m. removing limbs from the dining room. The next day, with the help of friends, family and a brother-in-law contractor, the Smiths started cleaning up. Plywood patches cover the roof and walls. Most of the debris has been cleared from the interior, and the fallen tree has been taken down. Bret is thankful for all the help, but he is also thankful for his family’s luck.

“Everybody is okay, that’s the main thing,” he said.

The Smiths still have insulation and branches to clear out, but Bret said the next step lies with the insurance adjustor.

“Now it’s just hurry up and wait,” he said.

While most of Roy is waiting for insurance adjustors, Fergus Electric Cooperative’s quick response has kept them from waiting for power. Line Superintendent Dale Rikala had crews responding as soon as the storm was over.

He reported nine staff members went out Friday evening, a number that expanded to 19 over the weekend. The crews repaired 36 downed power poles and 14 transmission poles that cut power to about 500 customers, including the towns of Winifred and Roy.

“In one of the worst areas, one of our engineers noticed the poles were 150 feet away [from where they had been installed] and the wire was 600 feet away,” Rikala said.

He added the crews put in extensive hours to restore service.

“We started getting to work at 5 in the morning, and the crews, the last ones, came in at 1 Sunday morning to get some rest,” Rikala said.

Although Fergus Electric Cooperative has restored power to the storm-hit region, there is still work to be done. Rikala said the company continues to clean up debris from their downed lines. He also explained some fixes to restore power had been temporary, and would have to be replaced with more permanent work. The company scheduled a power outage for Winifred Tuesday to “beef up” the lines, according to Rikala.

Rikala was grateful for members’ patience, especially with such extensive damage left from the store.

“The amount of poles that we had broke off . . . I haven’t seen that many poles that broke off,” he said.


What hit Roy?

The intensity of the storm left many Roy residents stunned, from the winds to the hail. It also left questions about what the storm was and why it was so strong.

Donald Britton, meteorologist-in-charge at the Great Falls weather forecast office, dispelled one rumor: There was no evidence the Central Montana storm was a tornado. He said the National Weather Survey came to their conclusion after reviewing photos and video of the storm, as well as the results of meteorologists’ storm and aerial surveys of the area over the weekend.

Instead, Britton labeled the storm a supercell, a large, rotating thunderstorm that is self-sustaining. He explained the storm’s properties resulted from a unique combination of updrafts’ tilts and temperature.

Most of the high-wind damage could be explained by what Britton called straight-line winds, gusts created when downward air hits the ground at a right angle, like water being poured out of a bucket.

“As this air hits the ground, it rushes out from all directions, and it rushes in a straight line,” he said.

Britton added the winds’ sudden nature could account for why wind speeds common to the area were devastating during the storm.

“If you were sitting in your car, and it was able to go from zero to 60 like that, how much pressure would you feel going into the seat?” he asked. “It would be astounding.”

Although a recent trend of rainy days and evening thunder may have people worried, Britton could not say if similar weather and storms would continue into the summer.

“That’s exceedingly difficult for somebody to predict,” he explained. “If somebody does say yes, I would be suspicious.”

For now, Fergus County commissioners have started the response to last weekend’s storm, signing a disaster declaration Monday. The commissioners are not levying the declaration’s possible mills because there was little damage to public infrastructure.

Commissioner Carl Seilstad lives near Roy, and used his first-hand experiences to estimate the monetary expense of storm damage in the county.

“When you drive around Roy, you can just about determine that everybody that had windows on the west side of the house, and siding, had extensive damage,” he said.

After considering property damage for the town, as well as the destruction in the rest of the county, Seilstad said commissioners considered the declaration necessary.

Cheri Kilby, Fergus County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, explained the declaration put the storm damage on Governor Bullock’s radar.

“What it basically does is it alerts the governor that there was a significant storm, and that it caused a lot of property damage,” she said.

If there is enough damage statewide, the governor could ask for a presidential declaration, according to Kilby. She stated the move would open up assistance for nonprofit utilities such as Fergus Electric Cooperative to recover the cost of repairing storm damage.

Kilby clarified the declaration would not help residents, adding insurance would hopefully cover most damage. She was also unsure of how soon a presidential declaration could happen.

After the storm, the damage and the bureaucratic aftermath, Roy has the outlook of small-town Montana, and so does resident Gary Smith.

“That’s the best thing about it: Nobody got hurt.”



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