BILLINGS – Federal emergency officials started arriving Tuesday in Montana to gauge the damage from flooding expected to continue for possibly several more weeks.
Rain that had plastered the state for more than a week finally eased, allowing authorities in the swamped town of Roundup to start pumping water from some areas.
Water levels dropped more than 2 feet in Roundup, said First Sgt. Levi Doll of the Montana National Guard. As the Musselshell River receded, Doll said, authorities were finding damage to roads and other infrastructure.
Flooded homeowners were expected to be allowed back onto their properties Tuesday but would have to leave at nightfall, Doll said.
Warmer weather this week was expected to trigger a second round of flooding from the melting snowpack.
Meteorologists said areas of particular concern were the Big Hole River in southwestern Montana and the headwaters of the Missouri River about 55 miles to the east.
The melting snowpack channeling down the mountains and into the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers is expected to coincide with rain near the town of Three Forks by the end of this week or early next week.
The extent of that flooding will depend on how high temperatures rise and the amount of rainfall.
“It could potentially be pretty bad especially since our streams are already at very high levels.” National Weather Service Meteorologist Ben Hoenisch said.
Northeastern Montana received up to 2 inches of rainfall over the holiday weekend, causing the Milk River to rise again after widespread flooding in April.
Roadways and homes in Glasgow, Tampico and Nashua counties flooded last week and were being threatened again, with moderate flooding predicted by Thursday, said meteorologist Patrick Gilchrist of the National Weather Service.
The town of Glasgow was under a flood warning, with the Milk River projected to crest in Glasgow at 31.5 feet by Wednesday evening. That’s nearly the same level recorded in April, when melting snow caused the Milk River to spill from its banks. Flood stage for the river at Glasgow is 25 feet.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to increase flow from the Fort Peck Dam to 50,000 cubic feet per second by Monday, which would raise the Missouri River above flood stage at Wolf Point, other parts of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and in low-lying areas of Valley and Roosevelt counties.
Forecasters say flooding from the spring melt also is possible along the Yellowstone, Tongue and Shields rivers in central and southern Montana.
Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will start assessing damage to bridges, roads and other infrastructure across the state by Thursday. Up to 25 people from the agency are expected, said Monique Lay, spokeswoman for the Montana Emergency Coordination Center.
Flooding has damaged at least 200 homes on the Crow Indian Reservation and many more homes and businesses in Yellowstone, Musselshell, Fergus, Carbon and other counties.
Residents of the Crow Indian Reservation received a reprieve during the latest round of rain after up to 8 inches last week forced hundreds of people to flee to shelters and caused Gov. Brian Schweitzer to dispatch 50 Montana National Guard troops to help with security.
Crow leaders said little flood water remained on reservation land, and families have started to move back into their homes. The tribal government was working to pump out flooded basements and repair damaged roads.
Keith Meier of the National Weather Service in Billings said the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers were both below flood stage. The rivers should remain low until next week, when residents will have to watch for swollen waterways once more.
“The best thing we can hope for is buying a period of time between the last set of events and the next potential event,” Meier said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.