Credit: Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

Heavy rain on top of deep snowpack resulted in “unprecedented” flooding in parts of southern Montana on Monday, forcing the evacuation and temporary closure of Yellowstone National Park. 

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Flood watch

Historic flooding of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries overwhelmed social media Monday and Tuesday of this week, as eyewitnesses and agencies posted drone and phone footage of rising waters, washed-out roadways, inundated towns, and bridges and homes swept away by torrential currents. Montana Free Press is compiling a collection of these videos as they…

Dan Borsum, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, said most of the flooding was taking place in and around the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains, impacting communities including Gardiner and Cooke City. In Red Lodge, Rock Creek had jumped its banks, forcing evacuations in that community. Across the region, bridges were taken out and roads were washed away.


Video posted by Yellowstone National Park to Facebook

Yellowstone National Park posted images from the north entrance of the park showing a raging Gardner River washing out parts of the roadway. Shortly after 11 a.m. Monday, the National Park Service announced that the entire park would be temporarily closed “due to heavy flooding, rockslides, [and] extremely hazardous conditions.” NPS stated that no visitor would be let back into the park until “conditions stabilize” and park staff can assess damage to roads, bridges and other facilities. Though a full assessment had yet to be completed, park officials were warning that roads could be closed for an extended period of time and that visitors should be prepared to keep a close eye on closure announcements in the weeks ahead. 

Borsum said a Memorial Day weekend storm added a fresh layer of snow in the mountains and that, combined with heavy rain this weekend, was flooding area rivers and streams. The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs hit the 11-foot flood stage at 1 a.m. on Monday, and by noon it was at 13.7 feet, 2.7 feet higher than its last peak in 1918. 

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Rising water puts the Flathead on edge 

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office is encouraging a “precautionary evacuation” for residents of low-lying areas along the Flathead River as the river slowly inches into flood stage this week.

The water wreaking havoc in Park, Stillwater and Carbon counties will likely start causing problems downstream in Columbus, Park City, Laurel and Billings in the coming days, Borsum said. He said it is likely that the river in Billings will reach flood stage, and that anyone with equipment near the river should move it as soon as possible, and otherwise stay clear of the water altogether. 

“If you don’t have to be near it, stay away from the river,” he said. 

Borsum encouraged residents to pay close attention to local authorities and the weather service as conditions change. 

Video posted by @dstusek11 to Twitter

Farther north, in the Flathead Valley, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Columbia Falls and surrounding communities as the Flathead River also inched closer to flood stage. 

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Justin Franz is a freelance writer, photographer and editor based in Whitefish. Originally from Maine, he is a graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism and worked for the Flathead Beacon for nine years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times. Find him at justinfranz.com or follow him on Twitter.