A video posted on social media shows vehicles scattered across the interstate, including an 18-wheeler that appears to have crashed into vehicles or gone into the median.
Officials believe a “rapidly rising dust storm” ultimately caused the pile-up. “It looks like strong winds are blowing, causing a dust storm with zero visibility,” Nelson said.
A summary of the storm National Weather Service Wind gusts reached 64 mph in Hardin on Friday at 4 p.m. local time.
The names and ages of the dead were not released as of early Saturday morning. Officials said injuries were piling up, but exact figures were not released.
By Montana Gov. Greg Gianfort (R). Twitter He was “deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty accident near Hardin.”
“Join me in prayer to lift up the victims and their loved ones,” he wrote. “We are grateful for the service of our first responders.”
I am very saddened by the news of a major accident near Hardin. Join me in prayer to lift up the victims and their loved ones. We are grateful for the service of our first responders.
— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) July 16, 2022
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R), who oversees the Montana Highway Patrol, said in a statement. Facebook The agency and first responders are investigating the incident.
“We will release additional information as it becomes available and appropriate out of respect for the lives lost and their loved ones,” Knudsen said. “My prayers go out to everyone affected by the tragedies during the dust storm in Big Horn County today.”
Thunderstorms Friday afternoon prompted high wind warnings for the Billings area, according to the weather service. A severe thunderstorm watch and warnings were issued Friday by the National Weather Service for south central and southeastern Montana.
The storms created winds called outflows that were sent toward Hardin. In addition to wind speeds, forecasters are predicting isolated quarter-sized hail and frequent lightning.
“This outflow cannot be seen on radar, so take appropriate measures now to prepare for the weather!” The National Weather Service tweeted.
Dispersing strong winds may affect parts of SE MT and Sheridan County, WY for the next couple of hours. This outflow cannot be seen on radar, so take appropriate measures now to prepare for the weather!#mtwx #wywx pic.twitter.com/KQMr1Q8VWX
— NWS Billings (@NWSBillings) July 15, 2022
According to the Montana Department of Transportation’s incident map, the crashes began around 4:50 p.m. local time Friday. Traffic was shut down on eastbound I-90 for several hours, and the westbound side of the interstate was reduced to one lane.
Nick Werts, a weather service meteorologist in Billings, told the AP that winds of that nature can easily pick up dust, quickly making visibility difficult.
“If they looked up in the sky when they were at Hardin, they didn’t see much of what you would think of a thundercloud, maybe not even much,” Wertz said. “It was a surge of wind, and it appeared out of nowhere.”