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Missoula County issues emergency proclamation ahead of Clark Fork flooding

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Posted at 11:25 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 13:25:34-04

MISSOULA — With rain in the forecast and the Clark Fork River rising, Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved an emergency proclamation ahead of anticipated flooding.

“About three weeks ago, we discussed the potential to reach that minor flood stage along the Clark Fork River,” said Adriane Beck, director of Disaster and Emergency Services in Missoula County. “We ended up coming up and touching it, but the river came back down and the cooler temperatures kind of helped keep the river low.”

But another bought of warm weather and recent rain has pushed the river back up into the minor flood stage. The National Weather Service is predicting heavy rain in the days ahead, with up to .50 inches on Tuesday and another .75 inches on Wednesday.

“Now we’re fully into spring and snowmelt is starting to occur at higher elevations,” said Beck. “The biggest concern over the next 72 hours is that we have quite a bit of rain the forecast, in some areas up to three inches in one storm cell.”

With flooding more common and the river channel shifting, the National Weather Service recently adjusted the river’s flood stage to 7.5 feet. The river is expected to top 7 feet during runoff and will likely accede that.

“The Clark Fork is forecast to hit minor flood stage probably in the next 12 to 24 hours and continue to climb,” said Beck. “At this time, we’re expecting to get real close to moderate flood stage, which has some pretty negative impacts as far as overland flooding.”

Areas that could be impacted by the high water include Kerhwald Drive and Tower Street, along with Mallards Way and Harper’s Bridge further downstream.

Tuesday’s proclamation marks the third consecutive year flooding will likely occur along portions of the river corridor through Missoula.

Last year’s emergency proclamation was made on April 11, and the year before saw significant flooding in early May in low-lying areas of the Missoula Valley. That prolonged incident – the worst flood since 1908 – resulted in mandatory evacuations.

The river topped 14.5 feet in 2018.

Tuesday’s emergency proclamation sets the stage for the county’s response to a flood.

“It’ll help us form the response that may be necessary, as well as any emergency expenditure that may be necessary to protect life and property,” Beck said.