Blame it on the wind: Montana ranchers and farmers deal with storm aftermath |

Blame it on the wind: Montana ranchers and farmers deal with storm aftermath

Cori Schultz remembered hearing the roaring wind around her Bloomfield, Montana farmhouse the evening of June 10. What she didn’t hear was the 92-year-old barn collapsing.

“The storm started around 9 p.m. and by 10 the barn was on the ground,” Schultz remembers. “People asked if I heard the barn go down. I didn’t, but I did see a tree that was sideways and everything was swirling.”

Cori and her husband, who passed away from cancer in January, raised their children on her husband’s family’s farm near Bloomfield. The Schultz family had brought the old red barn from the Rickerts farm to their farm in 1967 and had given in it a new lease on life by installing a new roof and new windows and blessing the venerable structure with a new coat of red paint. Schultz’ granddaughter was married in front of the barn on June 11, 2016. Five years later, the barn was gone.

The aftermath at the Schultz farm near Bloomfield, found the large television tower landing between the propane tank and the garage and twelve old trees or more completely uprooted.

“Telephone poles and wires were all down, I know of four buildings down the road that were blown apart and there were some collapsed grain bins,” Schultz noted. “Depending where you lived, some of the power poles were snapped and some were just laid over. We lost power that night and it will be next Wednesday or Thursday until we have it back.”

Schultz’ neighbors, Cindi and Dan Unruh, were worried about Cori when they heard the storm raging through and knew the power was out.

“Cori had just lost her husband and were panicking to make sure she was all right,” said Cindy Unruh. “The phones weren’t working and we couldn’t get there with a pick-up, so we got our four-wheeler. There were so many power poles all over the road, and my husband wanted to pull them out of the way. We ran into a young neighbor who was able to help with that. We wanted it cleared so Cori could get out.”

The Unruh’s son, Zachary, owns “Make Like A Tree” tree service in Billings. When he heard about the devastation from the storm, he hurried over to Bloomfield with his equipment.

“He was sorry he couldn’t stay longer, but he was able to help Cori and a few other neighbors,” said Unruh. “The guys that came over from different REA co-ops worked long, hard days. They did an amazing job getting our electricity back within a week.”

Unruh said the community was fortunate that even with blown apart buildings and downed trees and power poles, nobody was injured, and everyone pulled together. “It’s an amazing neighborhood. People look out for each other.”

Schultz’ daughter, Angela, added, “The next morning after the storm, we were trying to get to Mom’s house. Every road leading to the house had power poles across the road. We even were trying to drive on the section lines, but with all the rain, they proved to be too muddy. We finally just drove in the ditch around them and made it safely into her driveway. We talked to one of the linemen who was working very hard and, he told us that the poles were not just snapped off, but some of them were twisted and thrown off.”

The destruction was part of two storms that whipped through eastern Montana and western North Dakota the evening of June 8 and June 10. The storms brought wind, hail and in some areas, excessive rain. As is usually the case with June storms, some places received no rain at all, while reports were made of seven inches in some areas. Across the border, the town of Williston, N.D. experienced flash flooding. Thousands of downed trees and power poles were left in the wake of the storms.

“When it comes down that hard, it just runs off, and doesn’t really much good other than refilling some stock reservoirs,” said Sidney sugar beet farmer Don Steinbeisser, Jr. Steinbeisser, who serves as Montana Farm Bureau District 6 Director, had been attending the organization’s summer conference in Great Falls when the storm hit back home. He saw the devastation first hand driving back on Highway 2, which runs along the Hi-Line of Montana.

“The grass looked like someone had cut it down and piled it up, and there were a lot of telephone poles snapped, fences down and so many old trees tipped over. I saw lots of beat-up beet leaves, as well as grain plastered into the mud,” the farmer said. “I have a pivot right outside of my kitchen window that was tipped over. I saw three tornadoes across the river, and I’m not sure if they touched down or not. In town, there were roof shingles everywhere.”

Steinbeisser noted even with three or four inches of rain, because it came down so fast, it didn’t have a chance to soak in, so the area is still experiencing dry conditions.

Lee Candee, Agra Industries in Sidney, confirmed that his company, which handles Valley ® irrigation products, had 50 Valley pivots blown over, and heard that 10 more Reinke center pivots were also toppled in the storm. He said although much of the damage in the area was structural, crops could suffer because it will take time to get the pivots up and running again.

“We’re getting six loads of parts in between Friday and Monday, and we’d like to get all of those pivots operating again in a week, but that might not happen which will, of course, affect the crops,” he said.

Although stock reservoirs may have been replenished by the rain, with so many power poles down, ranchers with electric stock tanks are needing to use generators to keep their livestock watered. Other than concerns about livestock water, livestock and other critters seem to have weathered the two storms fairly well.

As for Cori Schultz’ chickens, they were rattled, but not harmed. “They quit laying for a day or two, but were otherwise fine,” she reported.

The Schultz’ barn, built in 1929, lies in a heap following the storm. Photos by Angela Schultz

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