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Unpacking Montana’s 2019 spring flooding outlook

Posted at 10:50 AM, Mar 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-16 12:52:16-04

HELENA – Water is one of Montana’s most precious resources, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Fortunately, this year isn’t shaping up to be quite as bad.

“Compared to last year we’re looking a lot better. Last year at this time we were 150 to 200 percent above average for mountain snowpack and right now I think our highest basin is about 115 to 120 percent,” said Arin Peters, Senior Service Hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

Given the record-setting February, it may come as a surprise that this year’s mountain snowpack isn’t all that high.

“Winter didn’t really start until the first week of February, and while we did have record precip in February all it really did was bring us back up to normal,” said Peters.

Melting mountain snow is one of the main drivers of major river flooding in Montanabut there’s obviously snow on the plains as well.

That too can contribute to river flooding, but also causes ponding, overland flooding, and basement flooding.

“Plains snowpack is a little bit above average..maybe more than above average. We have a lot of water in the snow in much of the plains, Cascade County and eastward, and southwest Montana as well,” Peters said.

Even though the upcoming flood season isn’t looking extreme there are some rivers that are more likely to flood this Spring.

“Right now it’s looking like some of the tributaries to the Milk River, like Clear Creek near Chinook and then Beaver Creek in Valley County, and the Little Bighorn River in Southwest Montana. The Shields River as well might have some minor flooding,” added Peters.

The weather going forward will also have a huge impact on flood potential.

Rapid snowmelt or a heavy rain event can drastically and quickly increase the likelihood of flooding.

It’s best to be prepared for flooding now, especially when it comes to flood insurance.

“If you live in an area where you’re even remotely close to having some flooding problems, or you’ve had them in the past and you don’t have an active policy, you need to talk to your insurance agent now, or talk to somebody at FEMA about getting that policy in place,” said Peters.

Story by Brandon Michaels