BILLINGS – Officials from Yellowstone County said Thursday afternoon they’re preparing for the possibility of major flooding over the Memorial Day weekend.
Up until this point the flooding stories have been centered on the western portion of the state but a major rainfall event over the holiday weekend could cause those concerns to start lapping at the doors of Yellowstone County residents.
The National Weather Service in Billings has a high level of confidence in a major rain event stretching from Sunday to Monday that could bring between 1-2 inches of rain to many parts of the Yellowstone River basin.
All this water enters the basin at a time when it’s already full from the snowmelt and rainfall earlier this week, which creates a potential for record water levels.
Director of Yellowstone County Emergency Services Brad Shoemaker stressed they are not trying to incite panic, but they want to give people as much warning as possible in advance of the holiday weekend.
The current forecast is for the Yellowstone River at Billings to reach a stage of 16.4 feet late in the day on Tuesday. If this event plays out as forecast the river depth would be a foot and a half higher than the all-time record. This potential flooding would be unprecedented and could have wide ranging effects on the city of Billings.
Director of Public Works Dave Mumford says that if the Yellowstone reaches 14.5 feet the storm drain system will start to back up and the capacity to move water away from the city will rely on pumps.
Shoemaker said the county has ordered 50,000 sandbags and that they will be available to residents. He also stressed that with the Billings Fire Department and the Montana National Guard on standby there is a lot of manpower ready to assist should the need arise.
Similar flood predictions exist along the Clarks Fork River and to a lesser extent along the Yellowstone upstream at Livingston and downstream at Miles City.
The NWS is confident in the rainfall forecast but things can still change. Residents near flood-prone areas or areas close to the river should follow the forecasts and be prepared to engage in preventative measures to protect their property.