GREAT FALLS - Montana is in for a "sensational" spring runoff and people who live along the state's rivers should prepare for high water, a National Weather Service hydrologist has warned.
"This is going to be a year unlike (any) one we have seen in quite some time," Gina Loss told the Great Falls Tribune. "This will not be a business-as-usual runoff year. If you live close to water, be prepared. The later we go into the spring, the quicker it can happen."
The driest river basin in the state is the Madison, Loss said, and that is at 138 percent of average snowpack.
"Get equipment off the water, get your livestock up off the water and - if your house is in a lower area - you might look at sandbags," she said. "Once this starts happening, you are likely going to get caught without being fully prepared. We are pushing this window of opportunity right now - get prepared. It is going to happen. We already are into May, and we have hardly brought out any of the water in the snow, and it is going to come out."
Recreationists looking forward to floating rivers could be in for a wild ride.
"People are going to want to float these rivers, and when they start rolling, they are going to roll hard, and safety is going to be a huge issue," Loss said.
She said a sudden warming spell could create a real threat. Forecasters said another storm is heading for the state with up to 2 feet of snow in the mountains starting Sunday.
Adding to the concern, she said, is that the ground is already saturated.
"We do anticipate some flooding, not just in southwest and south-central Montana, but in areas west of the (Continental) Divide as well," Loss said. "They are looking at (the) same kind of conditions. It is going to be a busy spring for southwest and southcentral Montana."
She said once the runoff begins, flooding is predicted on the Big Hole River at Melrose and on the Gallatin River at Gallatin Gateway.