Northeast Montana Town Raked By Severe Thunderstorms Three Times in 24 Hours

Jonathan Erdman
Published: July 11, 2018


A Northeast Montana town was slammed by three separate rounds of severe thunderstorms Monday and Tuesday, one of which lead to widespread wind damage and a brief tornado.

A supercell thunderstorm Monday evening inflicted the most widespread damage in Plentywood, a town of about 1,734 residents about 275 miles northeast of Billings near the Canadian border, Monday evening.

Eight airplane hangars were destroyed and six were damaged at Sher-Wood Airport northeast of town just after 7 p.m. Monday, according to a National Weather Service damage survey

Ten small planes were damaged or destroyed at the airport from what the NWS said was a macroburst, a large, intense swath of high winds rushing down from a thunderstorm that fanned out over a 2.7-mile long swath. 

Winds up to 118 mph bent a radio tower in half, folding it to the ground at the airport.  

(MORE: Why You Shouldn't Ignore Severe Thunderstorm Warnings)

Embedded in that same supercell thunderstorm was a brief EF1 tornado that destroyed a mobile home, damaged outbuildings, flipped empty trailers, blew out windows and threw two empty grain bins on the southeast side of Plentywood. 

The storm also left widespread tree and roof damage.

The Sheridan County Sheriff's Office said three electrical transmission lines were severely damaged Monday night. This knocked out power to most of the town. Scattered power outages were still reported Wednesday morning by Montana-Dakota Utilities. The Civic Center in Plentywood was opened as a shelter to provide power and air conditioning.

One Plentywood family rode out the storm Monday under a pickup truck in their shop, only to find their mobile home gone, Sheridan County Sheriff Heidi Williamson told the Associated Press. The shop was also damaged, but no injuries were reported.

(MORE: Fewest Tornado Watches So Far in 2018 in 12 Years)

Two Other Rounds of Severe Storms

Less than two hours after that destructive supercell, another severe thunderstorm dumped quarter to golf-ball size hail in Plentywood just before 9 p.m. Monday.

Radar history of the pair of severe thunderstorms which tracked through Sheridan County, Montana, including the town of Plentywood, on July 9, 2018.

One thunderstorm in that general cluster would later spawn a deadly EF2 tornado after midnight in Watford City, North Dakota, destroying 122 structures in an RV park.

The next evening, a squall line of severe thunderstorms raced through Sheridan County, producing a gust to 65 mph in Plentywood and 75 mph about 14 miles east of the town.

In all, that made three separate rounds of severe thunderstorms in this northeast Montana County in just over 24 hours from the evening of July 9 into the evening of July 10.

The three rounds of severe thunderstorms which affected Plentywood, Montana, from the evening of July 9 to the evening of July 10, 2018.

No thunderstorms are in the forecast for this corner of northeast Montana for several days.

Plentywood isn't alone this year. In early May, a Kansas county was hit by tornadoes on back-to-back days.

Jonathan Erdman is a senior meteorologist at weather.com, an incurable weather geek since a tornado narrowly missed his childhood home in Wisconsin at age 7, and a contributor to The Weather Channel Podcast. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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