SAuthorities said that a dust storm caused by winds gusts exceeding 60 mph led to a pileup of Interstate 90 in Montana. It claimed the lives of ix people.
On Friday, 21 vehicles collided with each other. Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Jay Nelson claimed that the weather is the reason.
“It appears as though there was heavy winds, causing a dust storm with zero visibility,” he said.
Nelson indicated that while the Highway Patrol did not immediately have a count of the injuries sustained, additional ambulances were needed from Billings.
Gov. Greg Gianforte said on Twitter: “I’m deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty crash near Hardin. I ask you to join me in prayers for the families of the victims. We’re 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 the scene with other first responders and investigating the incident. As appropriate, we will provide more information when it is available. This is in respect for the loved ones and lives that were lost.
“My prayers are with everyone affected by the tragic events during the dust storm in Big Horn County today,” Knudsen added.
It took place 3 miles (5 km) west of Hardin. The Billings Gazette video showed that hundreds of campers, tractor-trailers, and cars were backed up along two lanes eastbound of Interstate 81.
The dust storm’s roots can be traced back several hours, when storms popped up in central southern Montana between 1 and 2 p.m. and slowly began moving east, according to Nick Vertz, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Billings.
These storms led to a severe thunderstorm watch covering Hardin and surrounding areas of Montana, from Friday at 9 pm until mid-afternoon. Meteorologists predicted isolated hail up to the size of quarters, wind gusts as high as 75 mph (121 km/h), and lightning.
A so-called “outflow” — or a surge of wind that’s produced by storms but can travel faster than them — flew east/southeast about 30 miles (48 kilometers) ahead of the storms, Vertz said.
A gust of wind measuring 40 mph (64 km/h) was detected at Big Horn County Airport around 4:15 p.m. At 4:28 PM, the crash was reported to highway patrol.
By the airport weather station’s next reading at 4:35 p.m., the gusts had picked up to 62 mph (100 kph). An additional reading twenty minutes later showed a gust of 64 MPH (103 KPH).
The wind easily picked up dust — a product of recent temperatures into the 90s and triple digits over the last week — and reduced visibility to less than 1/4 mile (0.4 kilometers).
“If they looked up in the sky while they’re in Hardin, they probably didn’t see much of what you’d think of for a thunderstorm cloud, maybe not even much at all,” Vertz said. “It was just a surge of wind that kind of appeared out of nowhere.”
The meteorologist stated that they could expect additional thunderstorms and winds to keep first responders safe as they attempt to clean up the debris.
“It should be a relatively clear, calm night for them,” he said.
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