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River rising

County declares flooding emergency

By Michael Howell
With predictions still showing the potential for record-breaking flood levels on the Bitterroot River and some flooding along Eight Mile Creek already occurring, the Commissioners, last Tuesday, May 17, issued an emergency declaration.
Disaster and Emergency Services Director Ron Nicholas read the law to the commissioners and said, “I think the key word here is ‘threat’.” He said an emergency may be declared if there is a threat of disaster and there is no question that the threat exists. He noted the flooding along Eight Mile Creek and a few other areas in the county that was already occurring. He also noted the high snow pack conditions that still remain in the river basin.
Nicholas explained that high snow pack does not necessarily result in flooding. He said it depends upon turns in the weather that can precipitate or retard that runoff. He advised the Commissioners that by declaring an emergency now the county would immediately become eligible for more sand bags from the Army Corp of Engineers. He said that sand bags already made available were being used up rapidly.
National Weather Service forecast and trend predictions published on Monday, May 23, still show the Bitterroot River at the Victor gauging station breaking record flows around Wednesday evening on May 25. Trends suggest that it may dip and then rise and bump the record again before entering a steady period of decline on the 27th. That trend may begin to turn upward again by the first of June, however.
Also on Monday, May 23, Dan Zumpfe, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Missoula, said that high water conditions in the Bitterroot River would get a surge from some rainstorms over the week. Rain was expected Monday night, he said, and then again on 
Wednesday and Thursday nights, bringing one half to three quarter inches of precipitation. To top it off the temperature in the valley bottom on Tuesday is expected to reach 70 degrees. He said a few storms coupled with some intervening warm temperatures could have a significant effect on water levels in the river.
“If the first storm doesn’t push us up to flood stage, the second will push us over,” said Zumpfe.

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