High Wind Warning

Published 2011-02-13

High Wind Warning – A statement issued by the National Weather Service for the entire state of Montana. A statement that should have been a consideration for my weekend plans.

With a strong wind straight out of the west I headed to my destination, a family cabin and acreage, in eastern Montana. A lengthy drive brought me to a blockage in the road, a massive snow drift, where I must ski the remaining two miles into the cabin. I parked right up next to the drift overlooking the possibility the road blowing shut behind me. Overlooking the high wind warning was my first mistake. Parking where I did was my second.

Late that night, after watching a few movies in the comfort of the cabin, I was starting to question the integrity of the roof above my head. The wind was howling! My dad called to report a 114 mph gust was recorded in Choteau just before it destroyed the wind-measuring equipment. 80 mph gusts were recorded in Red Lodge and Livingston.

The next morning I awoke to a strong breeze and pleasant temps. There was no new drifting at the cabin. I felt assured the road, two miles away where I had parked, was fine and didn’t drift in. I spent the remainder of the day exploring what the wind had done to the ridge line behind the place. The ridge resembled glacial terrain, not that of the plains of eastern Montana.

A strong wind blew the next night. The following morning I got up at sunrise, packed my gear and was off. It was time to leave this lonely place.

I took one last look at our garden sun flowers – a hardy plant to still be upright!

Wind can be a cruel thing. After reaching my truck it was obvious that I had parked in the wrong place. I was stuck between two monstrosities. The drift in front of my truck was bigger and a new drift had blown in behind my truck. I had no chance of going out the way I came in. I found one potential way out. A six foot tall wall of snow lay between me and an open gate leading out onto the prairie. If I could dig through it I could link back up with the main road below.

The fear of abandoning my truck until spring led to frantic digging with my avalance shovel. In three and a half hours I had made it through and was off to what I hoped was freedom.

Two miles down the road my elation turned sour. The next stretch of road was littered with large drifts. I took my chances and careened over them praying I would not break through. Five miles of drift riding and my efforts were halted. The next one was too big to chance. On the other side I could see vehicle tracks. Although I knew I was fifty yards from freedom I had to turn around and take the alternate route.

To my surprise, a short way down the road, I was greeted to five wintering bull elk.

It was dawning on me that I might not get my truck out after all. The alternate route was drifted too. Fortunately the drifts were smooth and solid. My Tacoma glided right over the top. I soon ran into other tracks. No longer was I the one breaking trail. I had made it out!

The power of wind is a thing of beauty. It also sucks! Next time I’ll pay closer attention to the weather forecast. Regardless, it was still a fun winter adventure!