Flood watch issued for lower Big Hole, rains forecasted

Abnormally deep snowpack and recent rain have forecasters and Madison County officials watchful as the cool soggy spring of 2011 continues.

Another flood watch was issued Tuesday morning for the Big Hole River near Melrose. Forecasters are anticipating the lower Big Hole will reach flood stage Wednesday morning and begin a brief drop by Thursday morning through the weekend.

County officials have worked hard to notify residents in the lower Big Hole River Valley and along the Jefferson River about potential flooding, said Steve DiGiovanna, communications coordinator with Madison County.

During the past month, county officials have worked to prepare for the high water, DiGiovanna said.

“We decided to be a little proactive and put together some tasks we thought would be beneficial to people in the low lying areas,” he said. “We’re particularly concerned around the Pennington Bridge and also Waterloo.”

DiGiovanna attended a meeting in Dillon on Monday to discuss the situation with other counties along the Big Hole River.

“Everybody says that when the snowpack really starts to melt, when it warms up, there’s going to be a heck of a flow down that Big Hole River,” he said.

In much of the state snowpack continues to hold on far later than normal, said Gina Loss, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls.

In most river basins in Montana the snowpack hit its peak depth about a month later than usual, Loss said.

In normal years, snowpack depth around the state peaks in early April. However, this year snow accumulated until late April and early May, she said. Now runoff and river levels are being influenced by rains, which are typical for May in Montana.

Forecasters are calling for more moisture over the next five to ten days along with continued snowmelt. However, the warm temperatures that could really push river levels ups haven’t materialized yet.

Snowpack in the Jefferson River Basin is still nearly 160 percent of normal. In the Madison River Basin it’s 155 percent of normal. Some of the high-country sites that measure snowpack are still showing quite a lot of snow.

For instance, on Tuesday in Clover Meadows in the Gravelly Mountains there was still nearly five feet of snow.

What that means is even though streams levels are up, the spring run-off season has really just started, Loss said.

“We’re just barely getting into this,” she said.

County officials are asking people in flood-prone areas to make preparations early in case flooding becomes a problem, DiGiovanna said.

They suggest preparing a family emergency plan that includes stock and pets, line up a place to stay in case of evacuation and prepare valuables to move out of harms way.

“I think we’ve done about everything we can to get people prepared and ready to go,” said Chris Mumme, Madison County Emergency Management Director.

Beyond the Big Hole River, Mumme also encourages people along the smaller streams in the county to be vigilant because things can happen fast.

For instance, over the weekend Jack Creek flooded after a tree washed into the river and impeded the stream pushing water out across low-lying pastures and river bottom, he said.

For more information on flooding around Madison County, go to the DES website at madison.homestead.com or call Mumme at 843-4253.



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