Bitterroot Flood Watch Through the Weekend
The weather has been, at the least, unpredictable this spring. And although many of us believed we had slipped past "high water" season, storms have continued to dump snow in the high mountains. In fact, the surprising percentage of snowpack for this time of year has reached 596 percent of normal. That's from the automated snow gauges at Saddle Mountain at Lost Trail Pass and Twin Lakes up the Lost Horse canyon. The lower snow courses, though, are completely melted out.
And, the precipitation continues to come directly off the Pacific Ocean. As we reach the second week of June, we now have flooding in the Bitterroot Valley. The U.S. Geological Survey river gauges at Bell Crossing near Victor and the Darby gauge near Conner are approaching their highest levels of the year.
And, again, the Pacific Ocean is sending what weather forecasters call an "atmospheric river" of rain. Forecasters expect anywhere from one to 3 inches of rain from Saturday, June 11, to Monday night, June 13. In addition, temperatures have been in the 70s (and will be in the upper 60s through storms) and flooding will happen.
The Ravalli County Sheriff's Office shared a National Weather Service (NWS) "Flood Watch" statement Thursday. The encompassing forecast area includes Northwest Montana and West Central Montana. More specifically, the Flathead/Mission Valleys, the Kootenai/Cabinet region, the Lower Clark Fork region, the Bitterroot/Sapphire Mountains and the Missoula and Bitterroot Valleys.
NWS forecasters predict "excessive runoff may result in flooding of rivers, creeks, steams and other low-lying and flood-prone locations. Creeks and streams may rise out of their banks. Flooding may occur in poor drainage and urban areas. Rock and mud slides, debris flows, and landslips will be possible."
The Bitterroot River level at Darby is expected to reach 7.3 feet by Monday, June 13. Flood level is 7.5 feet. The Bell Crossing level is expected to reach the 11-foot flood stage Friday and peak about two and a half feet above flood stage by Monday.
The Woodside Bridge Fishing Access Site is already flooded and closed. So is the Bell Crossing Fishing Access Site. Some lowland flooding of fields is happening, mainly in the north end of the Bitterroot Valley.
Our advice - stay off the river until the fast-moving, cold water recedes. The Bitterroot River carries a great amount of floating debris (such as tree branches and tree trunks) that poke up through the muddy water and are dangerous.
Near the river or our streams, if you come across a flooded road, Turn Around, Don't Drown. Only a foot of moving water can sweep away your car. If you're walking, it only takes 6 inches of moving water to take you off your feet.