Missoula and Western Montana | Montana's News Leader®

Below-normal temperatures critical to ease flooding risk

MISSOULA – You’re probably complaining about the continued cold weather. But the experts are saying it’s our best friend right now if we’re going to avoid flooding as all this snow starts to melt in the valleys.

And they agree that now’s the time to take advantage of the gradual warm-up.

“I think the thing we’re a little bit concerned with right now is that we don’t warm up too quick,” said National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless. “Because right now we’re at temperatures in the 30s and that’s the way it’s going to stay for this next week. And that’s a good thing because that will just help melt a little bit of snow slowly as we go in through this week, in the valleys mainly. That’s our main concern now is just some of these valleys that got dumped on with snow.”

From the Bitterroot to the Flathead, parts of Western Montana are coping with huge amounts of snow that have dropped since the first of the year. In fact, much of it in the past month. For some areas, it’s the most in five years. That’s a plus for the summer water supply. But rivers are still flowing slowly past snow and ice, and some smaller stream beds remain choked in snow.

“What we’re seeing right now is most of the rivers and streams are flowing above their normal flows for this time of year,” Nickless said. “We’ve had such a good amount of moisture here lately and, really, we had kind of a carryover from the fall too where we had good streamflows.”

And with most places still buried, the question becomes how the runoff could develop. You can’t do much about that. But you can take preventative measures now.

Since there’s so much to melt in the next few weeks authorities say the best thing you can do right now is take a look around your homes and properties. Get snow away from buildings. Make sure the gutters work. And be ready for that water.

“People and their homes, trying to keep some of that snow away from closer to their house. When you get melt coming off your roof and that kind of stuff,” Nickless said. “Kind of try and get it away from proximity of right next to your house so it doesn’t get into your basement and crawl spaces. Stuff like that. I know I’m doing that right now at my place!”

If you need to sandbag, the advice is to protect your own property without causing more problems.

“The whole purpose of them is just to protect your property and protect your structures,” said Ravalli Co. Office of Emergency Management Director Eric Hoover. “The water as it comes off, you know, if we end up on a flood situation it’s gonna take the path of least resistance. And we don’t want to have folks creating problems for people downstream from them by diverting the water onto roads or other people’s properties.”

And keep one eye on the sky and stop complaining about the cold. It’s probably the best thing that could happen right now.

“Yeah, we’re trying to avoid that real warm-up and then the overnight low temperatures staying above freezing and then a little bit of rain mixed in,” Nickless said. “That’s the one thing we’re monitoring here as we go through time, to make sure that we’re not getting into that type of event.”

Nickless says testing has shown that, right now, most of the snow is still fairly dry, although there’s anywhere from 2-to-3 inches of water content, depending on your location.

Dennis Bragg

Dennis Bragg

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