Storm watchers had a treat on Saturday night into Sunday morning as spectacular thunderstorms moved through western Montana dishing out an amazing amount of lightning and thunder.

Meteorologist Dan Zumpf came on duty at about 10:00 p.m. Saturday and the lightning show was already underway.

“When I came in a 10:00 p.m. we were already in active storm warning mode,” said Zumpf. “My co-workers had been tracking storms all day yesterday and at about midnight we were tracking storms that were producing hail and lots of lightning. It seemed like the lightning was increasing overnight, which is not common here in the northern Rockies.”

Just how much lightning was surprising, even for seasoned meteorologists.

“At one point at about 3:00 a.m. I was noting to my co-worker that we were seeing 1,400 cloud flashes a pulses every five minutes over our forecast area, which is western Montana and north central Idaho,” he said. “I thought that was pretty phenomenal for that time of day.”

Zumpf addressed the natural concern about the possibility that so much lightning might portend the start of wildfires as in years past.

“For people that may be concerned about the possibility of fires, it’s a double-edged sword because a lot of lightning, of course, can give you more opportunities for fire starts, but we’ve had so much moisture lately around and the air is holding so much moisture that it’s tough for us to have turned a corner to where we have the last few summers with the dry fuels, so right now, we’re seeing lots of lightning around the area, but it doesn’t compare at all to the last two summers, up to this point.”

Zumpf said western Montana will have more thunderstorm activity on Sunday afternoon, primarily south of Interstate 90, in areas such as Hamilton, and southward to Butte, with a notation to travelers over Lolo and Lost Trail passes to watch for heavy rain with lightning.

Fire watchers will be busy on Sunday and Monday looking for lightning caused fire starts.