Flooding Returns to Montana; Governor Signs Disaster Deal

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Forecasters said high temperatures in Montana on Thursday will trigger minor to moderate flooding over the weekend on rivers and streams scattered across the state.

The prediction of more high water comes as many communities struggle to recover from weeks of flooding that inundated hundreds of houses and left many roads and bridges in need of repair.

But National Weather Service meteorologist Albert Richmond said the latest round of flooding will be brief. A cold front out of Canada will interrupt the rapid melting of the deep winter snowpack, and will bring more moderate temperatures into next week.

However, severe thunderstorms that will accompany the arrival of the cooler weather could compound the flooding in the short term, Richmond said.

“The rivers are so high out there that if you get some thunderstorms and heavy rains, it’s just going to add to the problems,” he said.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Thursday signed a formal agreement allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with state and local officials to repair flood damage.

President Barack Obama last week declared a major disaster in Montana covering 31 counties and four reservations. That made state and local governments and some nonprofits groups eligible for federal money to cover the cost of emergency expenses and repairs to damaged roads, water treatment plants and other public infrastructure.

FEMA representatives said about 70 staffers will work mostly with state and local officials to survey flood damage.

But even as FEMA geared up to gauge the damage so far, officials were looking ahead to more potential problems caused by rising rivers.

Ed Tinsley, who runs the state’s Disaster and Emergency Services, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the trend of relatively brief warming spells followed by a few days of cooler weather would moderate the flow of snowmelt into the rivers.

“If we keep in this cycle I anticipate that we will avoid a big event,” Tinsley said.

Eastern Montana rivers forecast to reach or exceed flood stage included the Yellowstone at Livingston and Forsyth, the Boulder at Big Timber, the Clark’s Fork at Belfry and the Tongue River at Ashland and Birney.

In central Montana, flood warnings will remain in effect until Saturday for portions of the Gallatin, Jefferson and Missouri Rivers.

In western Montana, flood watches and advisories were to continue over the next two to three days for the Flathead River in Flathead County, the Bitterroot River in Ravalli County and the Clark Fork in Granite County.

Flood warnings remained in effect in northeastern Montana along the Milk River at Tampico, Glasgow and Nashau. Waters were projected to fall below flood stage by Saturday.