Gov. Steve Bullock has declared a state of emergency ahead of possible major flooding in several Montana communities.
Bullock’s Wednesday order applies to Cascade County, Lewis and Clark County and the City of Great Falls.
It comes after the National Weather Service issued a flood warning along portions of the Missouri River.
Major flooding is expected at Ulm, 10 miles southwest of Great Falls. Flooding is expected along Woodland Estates Road, which is between bends in the river southwest of Great Falls, as well as the marina along Lower River Road in Great Falls.
Bullock said other communities may be added to the declaration as the situation develops.
The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Missouri River between Cascade and Great Falls on Wednesday, leading residents to move belongings to higher ground and start sandbagging. Others were already surrounded.
Forecasters said the Missouri River could match its highest measured crest of 17 feet (5.2 meters) near Ulm Wednesday night, depending on how much water pours into the Missouri from other creeks and rivers. Flood stage is 13.5 feet (4.1 meters).
Hydrologist Arin Peters told the Great Falls Tribune the sudden rise in the Missouri is because of inflows from the Dearborn River upstream near Craig. The Dearborn reached its highest-ever recorded measurements on Tuesday.
“We knew these rivers were going to combine, it was the timing we weren’t sure of,” Peters said.
Water also flows into the Missouri from the Smith River near Ulm, 10 miles southwest of Great Falls, while the Sun River joins the Missouri at Great Falls.
The Missouri River is expected to flood Woodland Estates Road, which is between bends in the river southwest of Great Falls, as well as the marina along Lower River Road in Great Falls. Flooding could occur at homes near the Great Falls Country Club, as well.
Wells Giles worked Wednesday to move belongings out of the lowest floor of his house on Woodland Estates Road.
“I’ve been here for five years and I’ve never seen it like this,” Giles told the Tribune. “It’s up probably 2 feet since yesterday and since this morning it’s gone up a foot over the past four or five hours.”
Moderate flooding continued Wednesday in Missouri River tributaries along the Rocky Mountain Front and thunderstorms and rain forecast this week could cause additional problems.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Capt. Brent Colbert says floodwaters were subsiding some in the town of Augusta on Wednesday, a day after a foot of water flowed down Main Street and U.S. Highway 287 re-opened near Augusta, but drivers were asked to take it slow.
A stretch of Montana Highway 200 from its junction with Secondary 279 to Simms was closed because of failing culverts. Secondary Highway 21 between Augusta and the town of Sun River was closed after a bridge washed out. Some local travel is allowed.
East of Augusta, the Sun River crested at Simms on Wednesday and the high water was moving downstream to Sun River and Vaughn.
“Upstairs, downstairs, you can look out and see water running as far as your eye can see,” Jerry Finney, whose two-story house in the community of Sun River is surrounded.
He said he could hear water flowing under his house, although it was still dry inside on Wednesday afternoon.
Volunteers in were filling sandbags in Vaughn as the river continued to rise, threatening some residences.
Norm Schertenleib was already predicting what would follow the flooding.
“The weeds and mosquitoes,” he said.