The second wave of flooding in a month hit Missoula on Tuesday, and with it came a now-familiar drill for Tower Street residents.
Volunteers and residents waded and canoed across the 3-foot-deep stream that's overtaken Kehrwald Drive, adjacent to Tower Street, to fill and stack sandbags around a home threatened but not yet inundated by water.
"His house hasn't taken on water yet, but for the rest of the properties - sandbags would be pointless," said Jereme Doty, who spent the day filling sandbags and building a 3-foot-tall, 100-yard-long barrier around the elderly man's home.
The Clark Fork River reached the 10-foot flood stage Monday night, then rose another foot by late Tuesday afternoon. With additional rainfall and moderate temperatures, forecasters predicted the river would reach 13.34 feet by sometime Thursday afternoon, more than 2 feet higher than the crest two weeks ago.
Water continued to rise around Tower Street throughout the day, and Doty said it's now steadily flowing through a number of basements and garages, and some of the flooded houses have been abandoned.
"It just blew me away knowing this was a street," he said. "This is like something you see on the news in the Midwest, not here in Missoula."
Missoula Public Works continued to deliver sand to the area Tuesday, just as they have been since the Missoula County commissioners suspended a long-standing policy against delivering sand May 26.
"The change in policy from the county commissioners has certainly assisted us in allowing us to deliver supplies and make sure residents have the supplies they need," said Chris Lounsbury, director of Missoula County Emergency Services.
Sand will continue to be delivered throughout the next few days, as the river is expected to rise even more.
West-central Montana received an inch of precipitation from Monday morning through Tuesday. With another 0.25 to 0.5 inches of rain expected for Missoula and Ravalli counties beginning Wednesday, in addition to mild temperatures that will continue to melt the snowpack at higher elevations, river and stream levels around the region will continue to rise in the coming days.
The National Weather Service predicted the Clark Fork will top 13 feet by Thursday morning. The highest level the Clark Fork reached this spring came two weeks ago at 11.2 feet.
"It's looking like the flooding in Missoula will be at least as high as it was a few weeks ago and could get to be even higher," said National Weather Service hydrologist Ray Nickless.
In fact, if the river reaches 13.34 feet, the crest will be the fifth-highest level ever recorded. The highest level of 17.40 feet came in June 1908, but the next four highest flows are within an inch of where the river is expected to crest on Thursday.
And the higher the river rises, the greater the chance of more homes being affected by the flooding this time around, he said. The National Weather Service estimated 10 to 15 homes in the Tower Street area were affected by flooding two weeks ago.
A flood warning has also been issued for the Clark Fork River upstream near Drummond and downstream at Plains, where the river is expected to reach flood stage by Wednesday.
Flood warnings were also issued Tuesday morning for the Bitterroot River in Missoula and Ravalli counties, and Rock Creek in Granite County.
The Bitterroot River was at 9.5 feet Tuesday morning, and is expected to reach its 11-foot flood stage by Wednesday. Nickless said the Bitterroot will reach flood stage throughout entire reaches of the valley, including Darby and Victor, and could possibly flood farmland and roads in Missoula County along the river between Lolo and the confluence with the Clark Fork River. There is also a flood warning for small streams in Ravalli County.
Although the Clark Fork River in Missoula County is one of the biggest impact areas, flooding in western Montana isn't confined to Missoula - Nickless said all of western Montana and north-central Idaho are now on either flood watch or warning.
Flood warnings were issued for small streams in Deer Lodge, Granite, Ravalli and Lake counties. The National Weather Service warned that creeks in Lake County draining from the Mission Mountains are especially prone to flooding, as they received 1 to 1.5 inches of rain starting Monday and going through Tuesday, and that same amount of precipitation is expected through Wednesday.
A flood warning was issued for the Flathead River at Columbia Falls, which was at 13.4 feet Tuesday morning, and flooding is likely in low lying areas when the river reaches its flood stage of 14 feet. Nickless said it wouldn't surprise him if the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River also reached flood stage soon with the added snowmelt coming down from the mountains.
Sanders County is also under a flood warning.