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Helena sets new wind speed record as gusts batter area
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Helena sets new wind speed record as gusts batter area

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High winds battered Helena Wednesday, as gusts of more than 70 mph knocked down fences, ripped up roofing and toppled trees throughout the area. 

According to the National Weather Service, Helena, Great Falls and Havre set new January wind speed records of 74, 76 and 72 mph respectively.

NorthWestern Energy reported at least 13 power outages in the Helena Valley, affecting upwards of 700 customers.

A large tree outside the Helena Civic Center was uprooted, and the city of Helena had to close the Memorial Park Ice Rink after a tree fell onto the ice. Trees also fell onto the Montana State Auditor's Office building and a new fence at Hawthorne Elementary School.  

The city's urban forestry staff has begun assisting with the cleanup. Residents can report damage to boulevard trees using the MyHelena app, calling (406) 447-8426 or emailing cdaly@helenamt.gov, according to a news release Wednesday afternoon.

"The City of Helena will not collect debris from any privately owned trees," the news release states. "Debris from private trees should be taken to the transfer station and not put in a dumpster. Branches from private trees placed on the boulevard will not be collected."

Helena Regional Airport Director Jeff Wadekamper said the day's Delta Air Lines flight bound for Salt Lake City "came and went without any problems," but that afternoon's Alaska Airlines flight bound for Seattle was canceled because of the high wind.

Wadekamper said it depends on the aircraft and direction of the wind.

"I've been staring at that wind sock all day, and it's pointing straight down the runway," he said Wednesday.

The city did not have an estimate of damage to its properties as of deadline.

City spokeswoman Amanda Opitz cautioned residents to avoid damaged trees as their structural integrity has been compromised and continued winds could further damage them.

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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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