Historic flooding closes northern part of Yellowstone National Park for remainder of season

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Heather Muldoon spent most of Monday preparing her Livingston gardening business for the impending flood.

When she was urged by local authorities to leave around 6 p.m., she thought the worst was over. But all her things were gone when she returned to Heather’s Garden Service and Flower Farm on Tuesday afternoon.

“It got worse after I left, and I had no idea. I lost everything…it’s a nightmare,” Muldoon, 52, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I don’t even know what to do. I don’t even know what to say. It’s crazy.”

Heather Muldoon, 52, prepares her gardening and flower business ahead of the floods on Monday June 13. (Courtesy of Frank James)

Heather’s business, located on Ninth Street Island in Livingston, Montana, was swept away by a historic flood that gripped the Yellowstone River and entered communities from Gardiner to Red Lodge on Monday – taking homes, bridges and businesses with it – leaving behind damage that could take years to repair.

The flooding was caused by snowfall over Memorial Day weekend, combined with warmer temperatures at higher elevations last weekend, which allowed the snow to begin to melt. The event shut down the entire northern half of Yellowstone National Park, including attractions like Lamar Valley, Tower Falls and Mammoth Hot Springs, for at least the rest of the summer. And more flooding could happen, according to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly.

“We still have very high water as of today… we still have about 12 inches of snow left, and if we get warming temperatures in the right mix of precipitation like we did on Sunday, we could have a another flood across Yellowstone in the next four or five days,” he said during a press event streamed via Zoom.

And in Montana Park, Sweetgrass and Carbon counties, the Billings National Weather Service is forecasting high water levels again this weekend.

“We have drying conditions for the rest of the week; there are going to be very hot temperatures Friday through Saturday,” the agency’s Dan Borsum said. “Now there will be no rain associated with that, so we expect that to happen more slowly than what we have seen in recent days.

Although the damage was extensive, no significant injuries or fatalities were reported, but Sholly said one visitor has died since the flooding began following an unrelated episode of cardiac arrest. flooding.

On Tuesday, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared states of emergency for Carbon, Park and Stillwater counties to help deal with historic flooding. The statement was signed by Lt. Governor Kristen Juras because, as Lee Newspapers first reported, Gianforte is out of the country and will return in a few days.

“With rapidly melting snow and recent heavy rains, communities in south-central Montana are experiencing severe flooding that is destroying homes, washing away roads and bridges, and leaving Montanans without power and water,” Gianforte said in a statement. a statement. “Today’s declaration of disaster will help affected communities get back on their feet as soon as possible, and I have asked state agencies to step in with their resources to support these communities.”

According to the release, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services is working to support local authorities in Carbon, Park and Stillwater counties and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the next steps.

Sholly and Park County Commissioner Bill Berg spoke to about 100 reporters on Zoom Tuesday afternoon.

Sholly said he doesn’t expect the northern part of the park to open this summer. He said the hardest hit area was between Gardner and Cooke City, two gateway towns that rely heavily on the summer tourist months, and the road that connects the two towns will not reopen this summer.

“I will remain as optimistic as possible, but even if we start now, I am not sure that we can reopen the road on the north side. So it will likely remain closed for the rest of the season,” he said.

Weather in the rest of Montana

In western Montana, flooding and gusty winds were also reported, along with snow. The Missoula National Weather Service said in a tweet that it had received numerous reports of water on the roads after one to three inches of rain in the valleys of northwestern Montana over the past 24 hours.

A flood warning was issued that morning for the Yaak River near Troy, and the weather service advised motorists not to drive through flooded areas.

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The agency also said an urban flood and small stream advisory has been issued for northwest Montana, including Kalispell, Libby, Eureka and West Glacier, due to heavy rains forecast. until 6 p.m. said NWS Missoula in a Twitter update.

In Whitefish, snow was piling up at Ski Whitefish Base Lodge, NWS Missoula said in a post with the hashtag #junuary.

Yellowstone National Park flooding affects summer tourist season

This closure is devastating for Gardiner and surrounding areas that depend on summer tourism to keep the lights on year-round.

“He lives and dies by tourism,” Berg said of Gardiner.

Frank James of Livingston is one of those counting on this industry. Last year he started Mountain Man Guiding, but said he will likely have to find a new job because of the flooding.

“You’re wasting your life, basically,” he said. “I own a guiding business and I can no longer guide. I will have to find a new job.

And the flooding comes just as businesses were beginning to rebound from COVID-19, Berg said.

“Companies I spoke to had even stronger reservations for this summer. And now it’s all gone,” Berg said. “So companies are already trying to sort out their seasonal staff who don’t have can’t afford to keep it in. Their business projections are shot, reservations are canceled, people are asking for refunds, which is understandable.

Sholly said the park is working with other gateway communities like West Yellowstone, Cody and Jackson to see how they can support visitors to the park’s South Loop. The park can see up to 1 million visitors during the summer months.

“One thing we know for sure is that half the park can’t support all visits, so we’re exploring a range of options,” Sholly said. He discussed the timed entry and reservation systems for the South Loop when it opens.

Floods affect infrastructure

Over the past 36 hours, Berg said several bridges in the county have been destroyed.

“Sunday evening we received our first alert that there was trouble on the horizon when two of our bridges on the Bannack Trail were swept away,” he said.

As for the park, the North Loop took the brunt of the damage, Sholly said, but the full extent of the damage won’t be known for some time.

Yellowstone National Park flood
Yellowstone National Park’s historic flood washed out a bridge at Rescue Creek. (Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park via Flickr)

“The water is extremely high. We are not putting teams at risk at this stage. When the waters return, likely early next week, we will be bringing together a large number of people from different agencies across the country to come to Yellowstone and help us assess the damage to various park infrastructure,” he said. he declares. “You can see it in the photos: it’s expensive. But we won’t know exactly what the timelines are, what the costs are, or any of that information until we have teams on the ground who can actually assess what’s going on and what it will take to fix it.

The park and surrounding gateway towns like Gardiner were full of visitors when the flooding started, Sholly said. He estimated around 15,000 people were in the park when it closed. As of Monday, all visitors except for a dozen backcountry campers have been removed from the park.

“We had to make a decision yesterday due to unsafe conditions to move all visitors out of North Yellowstone, and we pushed them south into the South Loop,” he said.

“We have contacted or know the whereabouts of all backcountry users currently in Yellowstone. Currently, only one group remains in the North Range. We contacted them; we were ready to do helicopter evacuations if necessary. It hasn’t been necessary so far,” Sholly told reporters. As of Tuesday, there is a full backcountry shutdown of Yellowstone in place. And the Yellowstone River has been closed for recreational activities.

In addition to park visitors, thousands of visitors were stranded in Gardiner, which was cut off after flooding destroyed Highway 89 on Monday. The highway was reopened late Tuesday afternoon. And collapsing roads and bridges in Silver Gate and Cooke City have also caused temporary isolation.

“We also lost several roads in Park County and the area. In addition to the three bridges we lost in Cooke City, Park County lost a bridge over the Yellowstone near Tom Miner Basin…had another bridge compromised in the middle of Paradise Valley,” Berg said.

Muldoon said she was devastated.

“It’s not just the money I have. It’s also the money I put into this business, and it’s all gone…it’s four years of working on this horticultural farm working on this greenhouse,” she said.

But she knows she is not alone.

“I’m not the only one. There are people whose homes have been completely swept away and flooded, and that’s obviously huge,” she said.

The Daily Montanan, like the Idaho Capital Sun, is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains its editorial independence. Contact editor Darrell Ehrlick with any questions: [email protected] Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

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