6 dead after storm causes crash on Montana highway – Twin Cities

By STEFANIE DAZIO

Six people were killed after a dust storm fueled by wind gusts exceeding 60 mph caused a pileup Friday night on Interstate 90 in Montana, authorities said.

Twenty-one vehicles collided and Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Jay Nelson said authorities believe weather was the cause.

“It looks like there are high winds, causing a dust storm with zero visibility,” he said.

While the highway patrol did not have an immediate count of the number of injuries, Nelson said additional ambulances had to be called from Billings to help.

Governor Greg Gianforte said on Twitter: “I am deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty crash near Hardin. Please join me in praying to lift up the victims and their loved ones. We are grateful to our first responders for their service.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who oversees the highway patrol, said in a statement, “The Montana Highway Patrol is on scene with other first responders and investigating the incident. We will post more information as it becomes available and appropriate out of respect for the lives lost and their loved ones.

“My prayers are with everyone affected by the tragic events during the Big Horn County dust storm today,” Knudsen added.

The incident occurred 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of Hardin. A video from The Billings Gazette showed hundreds of tractor-trailers, campers and cars backing up for miles along the interstate’s two eastbound lanes.

The roots of the dust storm go back several hours, when the storms appeared in south central Montana between 1 and 2 p.m. and began moving slowly east, according to Nick Vertz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. in billings.

Those storms prompted a severe storm watch that covered Hardin and other parts of Montana from mid-afternoon to 9 p.m. Friday. Forecasters forecast the possibility of isolated quarter-sized hail, scattered wind gusts up to 75 mph (121 kph), and frequent lightning.

A so-called “outflow,” or a surge of wind produced by storms but that can travel faster than them, blew east/southeast about 30 miles (48 kilometers) ahead of the storms, Vertz said.

A 40 mph (64 kph) wind gust was recorded at the nearby Big Horn County Airport at 4:15 p.m. The accident was reported to the highway patrol at 4:28 p.m.

According to the next airport weather station reading at 4:35 p.m., gusts had increased to 62 mph (100 kph). Another reading 20 minutes later recorded a 64 mph (103 kph) gust.

The wind picked up dust easily, a product of recent temperatures in the 90s and triple digits over the past week, and reduced visibility to less than 1/4 mile (0.4 kilometers).

“If they looked up into the sky while they were at Hardin, they probably didn’t see much of what you would think for a storm cloud, maybe not even much,” Vertz said. “It was just a rush of wind that appeared out of nowhere.”

As first responders try to clean up debris, the forecaster said they can expect to be safe from additional wind and thunderstorm activity.

“It should be a relatively clear and calm night for them,” he said.

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