Flooding in Madison County – Rains saturate ground, push rivers over their banks

A moose navigates a flooding Jack Creek on Wednesday. Photo by Steve DiGiovanna.

A house near Jefferson Island is threatened by floodwaters. Photo by Steve DiGiovanna

If you go just about anywhere in Madison County, the impacts of a cold, wet spring are evident.

At the north end of the county, in the Waterloo and Jefferson Island area, back roads are rutted and muddy, mosquitoes are getting hungry and active and the Jefferson River has not only topped it’s banks, but it’s spreading out in an unwelcome blanket over the surrounding river bottom.

In the Twin Bridges area, the flooding Big Hole River is swamping bottomland and eroding riverbanks.

In the Ruby Valley, bridges have closed as water from the Ruby River flows across county roads.

Madison County road crews re-enforce the river banks above the High Road bridge west of Twin Bridges. Photo by Steve DiGiovanna.

In the Madison Valley, Jack Creek east of Ennis has been acting up, washing out the adjacent county road along with damaging some culverts.

And we’re just getting started with a late spring runoff, said Gina Loss, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls.

“This has truly been a phenomenal year for Montana in so many ways,” Loss said.

The recent rise in river levels around southwest Montana was due primarily to rainfall, she said. However, the snowpack that has stayed on for so long in the high country is coming off, but slowly.

“It is warm enough that we are slowly eating away at that snowpack,” Loss said. “We still have a lot of snow.”

We’ve actually gotten so late into the season that snowpack figures just don’t really mean much anymore, said Brian Domonkos, snowpack specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman.

In typical years, the mountains in southwest Montana are approaching complete snowmelt by this time, Domonkos said.

However, this year the Madison River Basin still has 67 percent of it’s total snowpack left to melt out and the Jefferson River Basin has 50 percent, he said.

“It seems like we’re about five weeks late in terms of actual snowpack,” Domonkos said.

The flooding during the past week has kept road crews around the county very busy, said Steve DiGiovanna, communications director for Madison County.

One of the major problem areas has been the High Road Bridge across the Big Hole River outside of Twin Bridges.

Floodwaters ate away at the soft sandy bank on the west side of the river putting the footings of the bridge in jeopardy late last week. Sunday and Monday, road crews pushed more than 60 dump truck loads of riprap onto the riverbanks to stabilize the situation.

In fact it’s been the work of the county road crews that has kept many of the problems with high water from becoming too serious, DiGiovanna said.

“These guys have done a fantastic job,” he said. “I’m completely impressed with the efforts the road crews in all three part of the county have made.”

River levels have sort of peaked for the time being, but DiGiovanna is anxious to implore people to keep vigilant.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Loss agrees.

With so much of the snowpack yet to come out, she’s not comfortable saying that river levels have peaked for the seasons.

“We expect them (the rivers) to stay up running pretty darn full,” Loss said.

The short term forecast is for cooler temperatures with more rain. In fact, over the next week, the temperatures could drop enough to bring snow levels down again.

“With the next system that’s coming in, it looks like a cooler system,” she said. “We could have snow levels down to five or six thousand feet in the middle of June.”

The long term forecast is still a bit fuzzy, Loss said. The La Nina effect in the Pacific Ocean that has caused a wetter weather pattern for more than a year appears to be neutralized. However, there’s no indication yet of anything that will push weather patterns in one direction or another during the summer months.

One thing that seems to be contributing to the runoff is the saturation of the soil, she said. The soil around much of the state cannot absorb any more water and so any rainfall goes directly into the rivers, Loss said.

“It doesn’t take a lot of rain to push the river levels up,” she said.

For more information about flooding in the area, keep checking The Madisonian’s website at www.madisoniannews.com or the Madison County emergency management site at www.madison.homestead.com.

Forest Service road closures

Dillon Ranger District –683-3900

  • Rattlesnake Road #192-Closed to extreme muddy conditions and soft road bed.
  • Bull Creek Road #928-Closed.  The Bull Creek Road travels north from the Big Hole Pass on Carroll Hill.  The washout section is about 5.2 miles up the 928 road, and after the junction with the 928 B road.  A culvert has washed out and the road is currently impassible.


Jefferson Ranger District (Whitehall) –287-3223

  • Dry Gulch Road #87 – road washout approximately four miles east of the junction of Road #674 and 8444.  Road is washed out 35-45 feet and is impassable.
  • Boulder River Road #82-road is washed out two miles west of Whitehouse Campground.
  • Fish Creek Road #668 closed six miles southeast of MT Hwy 2 due to washouts.
  • Little Boulder #86 closed one half mile below Elder Creek due to washout.


Madison Ranger District (Ennis) – 682-4253

Sheridan Work Center – 842-5432

  • Warm Springs Road #163 closed for entire length due to a washout.
  • Ramshorn Road #159 is impassable due to a bog hole approximately Three miles northeast of it junction with Current Creek Road #1218.
  • Mill Creek Road #111-closed, approximately five miles from Forest boundary, bridge washed out.

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