WEST GLACIER – That the wind blew Wednesday morning at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park wouldn’t normally be newsworthy, except for one thing.
The biggest gust, recorded between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., got up to a record 139 mph.
That’s whipping along pretty good – a speed the equivalent of an EF-3 tornado; faster than the winds generated by Typhoon Usagi last year that killed 35 people in China; faster than the winds Hurricane Katrina brought when it made landfall in Louisiana in 2005 and killed more than 1,800.
Of course, those were sustained winds coming off oceans, and this was just a gust – a spike in the wind speed lasting less than 20 seconds – through a mountain pass.
And, of course, no one was injured at Logan Pass, because no one was there. It will be well over two months before snow is cleared from Going-to-the-Sun Road, and anyone can access the pass.
Still, gusts over 100 mph are rare for Montana. Among the top 10 20th century weather events in the state, as compiled by the National Weather Service, is an Arctic storm in 1989 that brought downslope winds off the Eastern Front of the Rocky Mountains. Those winds gusted up to 124 mph in Choteau.
An anemometer at the Visitors Center atop the pass measured Wednesday’s wind speed, and the information was relayed, likely via satellite, although that could not be confirmed Thursday.
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“They do get winds on a frequent basis up there, and strong winds through the saddle,” said Mike Johnson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula. “There’s not a heck of a lot to slow the wind down, and the way the topography works, the mountains act like great big sails and direct the winds so they accelerate through a pretty small corridor.”
The previous record gust recorded at Logan Pass was 133 mph, on Dec. 13, 2006.
The average wind speed during the hour the record gust was recorded was 66 mph.
Just eight hours prior to Wednesday’s 139 mph recording, the anemometer was reporting gusts of up to 41 mph and an average speed of 18 mph. At midnight, the gusts were up to only 46 mph.
Johnson said a cold front moved through the park early Wednesday. By 1 a.m. the top gusts had reached 68 mph.
They slowed to 52 mph by 2 a.m., then began increasing – to 66 by 3 a.m., 81 by 4 a.m. and 84 by 5 a.m.
Not that 84 mph wind gusts are anything to sneeze at, but over the next hour the gusts gained another 55 mph.
An hour after the 139 mph gusts were recorded, winds as high as 98 mph at Logan Pass were still being reported by the anemometer.