Storm shatters tree, sinks sailboat

Birds oddly attracted to lightning-struck roof

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Lightning struck this tree across the street from Tanya Sheldon’s home on River Lakes Drive Thursday.

A swift storm swept through Flathead County on Thursday night, knocking out power to thousands, knocking over a sailboat on Whitefish Lake and reducing one tree to splinters.

River Lakes Drive resident Tanya Sheldon said she and her husband were relaxing in their home at about 11:30 p.m., when her husband started seeing lightning hit near Big Mountain and then near town.

“All of a sudden the hair on the back of his neck stood up and it hit,” Sheldon said. “Everything just lit up so bright and the whole house shook. He headed toward me, I headed toward him — we were sure it had hit the roof of our house.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that Sheldon discovered it was not her house that had been hit but a tree in a lot across the street, about 80 yards away.

Sheldon said she found two pieces of the tree the size of two-by-fours within 15 feet of her house. In addition, there were similar-sized pieces hanging in the branches of trees within 25 feet of the tree that was hit.

A former California resident, Sheldon said she experienced tremors from the Northridge earthquake as well as three other major earthquakes, but never as close to the epicenter as she was to the lightning strike.

“I’ve been in a lot of earthquakes, and I’d say that this was probably scarier,” she said. “I thought that’s what it felt like to have an earthquake right under you.”

There was also another interesting occurrence following the lightning strike. The following day, hundreds of birds swarmed Sheldon’s house, lighting on the roof.

“Maybe that’s what happened in ‘The Birds,’ there was a lightning strike and then they were attracted to the afterglow,” she mused. “I’ve never seen that many birds before.”

A pair of youths out on a small sailboat on Whitefish Lake also felt the wrath of the storm, but in a less electrifying way.

According to Whitefish Fire Capt. Justin Woods, the two children were caught by surprise when a powerful wind capsized and sank the boat. Their father took action, using nearby personal watercraft to rescue his children before fire department responders arrived.

Roughly 4,500 Flathead Electric Co-operative members lost power during the storm. The bulk of those were in the Whitefish area, particularly around the north and east shores of Whitefish Lake and in the area of Grouse Mountain.

Wendy Ostrom-Price, a spokeswoman for Flathead Electric, said the first calls came in around 7 p.m. Power was restored to the bulk of the members within five hours, with some having their power restored within half an hour.

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at

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