An intense rainfall mixed with a seasonal snowmelt caused unprecedented flooding in Park County on Monday as the Yellowstone River raged like never before, collapsing bridges, washing out roads and spurring people to scramble to save their properties.
“This is record territory for flooding in Park County,” said Cory Mottice, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Billings. “We don’t know what this type of flooding is going to do. We’ve not seen this before.”
Up to 3 inches of rain fell in the mountains in the past 36 hours, according to Mottice, causing the Yellowstone River to swell above its banks, flooding roads and some houses, and destroying bridges.
In response to the disaster, Yellowstone National Park closed all of its entrances temporarily “due to heavy flooding, rockslides, and extremely hazardous conditions,” read a press release from the park.
By mid-morning Monday, the Carbella Bridge at Tom Miner Basin off U.S. Highway 89 had washed away.
Paradise Valley resident Shay Himenes was a witness to the event.
“Water was just steadily beating on it … all of a sudden that thing just broke free,” he said. “It just broke free into the water and pretty much took off downstream and started sinking right away.”
Also Monday morning, roads were closed from Emigrant to Gardiner.
“You can’t get to Gardiner right now,” said Greg Coleman, manager of Disaster Emergency Services in Park County. “You can’t get past Yankee Jim Canyon. Travel is restricted due to flooding.”
“This is a rain-on-snow event that can cause severe flooding with little notice,” said Coleman. “Water levels will continue to rise, and we are expecting record flooding along the Yellowstone.”
At Corwin Springs, the river was projected to swell to 13 feet, which is 2 feet above the flood stage of 11 feet, and would break the record of 11.5 feet set on June 14, 1918, according to meteorologist Mottice.
A record was also expected to be broken at Carter’s Bridge on East River Road as Mottice forecasted that the Yellowstone would reach as high as 12.6 feet, shattering the previous all-time high of 10.72 feet set on June 6, 1997.
Angela Gill, a resident of Pray, who lives near the river, posted on Facebook around noon Monday that her crawlspace was overflowing with water and her basement was flooded.
“We made some sandbags with kitty litter,” Gill posted. “I’m trying to be innovative and will remain here to defend my space! Thank you all for reaching out to offer help. They’ll be plenty to do when this recedes.”
Meanwhile, the city of Livingston set up a self-filling sandbag station at the Park County Fairgrounds for residents needing it, according to an email from the city’s manager office.
At 12:45 p.m. on Monday, Coleman reported that the bridge at Murphy Lane crossing the Yellowstone in Emigrant was no longer safe.
“We are concerned we may lose that bridge,” he said.
The emergency manager said evacuations were also taking place on the Ninth Street Island, where about 100 residents live and in other smaller communities near the river.
“We continue to see increased impacts from the flooding,” said Coleman. “The Red Cross is on standby, and if needed, we will open shelters in Livingston and Big Timber.”
Coleman also said the city of Gardiner was under a “boil order” because the public supply of water was not safe to drink. Gardiner residents should boil their water for one minute before drinking, he said.
“It’s not safe out there,” said Coleman. “Stay clear of the Yellowstone and its tributary streams. And limit unnecessary travel in the county.”
Coleman warned residents about trying to drive through floodwater flowing across roads.
“It’s very dangerous to drive through water on a roadway,” said Coleman. “All it takes is a couple of inches to wash away a vehicle. Don’t drive across flooded roadways.”
Mottice said the rain will taper off tonight and we will have a “cool-down” period in the next few days. Then there will be a “rapid warm-up” with temperatures in the 80s on Thursday and possibly low 90s on Friday.
The weekend could see more rain, said Mottice, as a low-pressure system moves in from the Northwest.