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Forest Service presses safety as Swan River swells from spring rains

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | June 15, 2022 12:00 AM

Rivers across Montana are seeing rapid waters and flooding after spring melt and heavy rains caused waterways to swell. Flathead National Forest Hydrologist Craig Kendall said the Swan River is experiencing flooding that happens about once every three years, measuring the water levels at around 5,500 cubic feet per second during the time of this publication. He said it’s nothing to panic about, but nothing to ignore either.

“It’s nothing major, but it does mean water in most places is on the active floodplain. Buildings in the active flood plain could be at risk in some places… it’s not a big flood but it’s something to be cautious about,” Kendall said.

The Swan River can be particularly dangerous at high flow. As the river runs through the National Forest, it picks up all sorts of wood debris, logs and limbs. Kendall said it’s best to avoid the river at this time, meaning any recreation activities are discouraged as rapid waters are creating dangerous conditions.

Amid more major flooding in southwest Montana, the Montana Department of Transportation said on Facebook that people should avoid walking through flood waters. Only six inches of moving water can knock an adult off their feet. People are also advised to not drive through flood waters because it is extremely difficult to determine how deep it is and how fast the current is moving. Any reports of road damage or flooding should be reported to MDT.

Kendall said this kind of flooding can contribute to road washouts and culvert failures. He said there aren’t currently any reports of damage along roadsides but areas are being monitored by Forest Service personnel.

June is the Flathead Valley’s wettest month, Kendall said. But, dryer conditions in previous years might be affecting that statistic.

“You can consider it typical, but with the climate change we are experiencing, we are documenting a general decline in summer precipitation. But historically, June is our wettest month,” Kendall said.

The Daily Inter Lake reported on Monday that flooding is possible along portions of the Flathead River this week as well. Area mountains will get hit the hardest, with an additional 2-4 inches of precipitation in the Flathead, Mission, Swan and Cabinet mountains, the Weather Service warned.

A rare June winter storm warning was issued for Glacier National Park above 5,000 feet.

Snow levels could drop down to around 5,000 feet by Tuesday morning. Some locations above 6,000 feet will pick up over a foot of wet, dense snow.

On Wednesday, rain is expected to subside and warmer weather will begin to set in. By Thursday, area temperatures could be 10 to 15 degrees above average, with highs into the 80s. Keep a close eye on alerts from the National Weather Service as more rain and storms are expected through the weekend.