County issues emergency proclamation, citing flood potential

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Citing the potential for spring flooding, Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday signed an emergency proclamation, positioning the county to issue certain orders and tap into additional resources if needed.

On the heels of a wet winter, there’s enough moisture locked in the mountain snowpack to fill area rivers and streams. How quickly that happens will depend on when springtime temperatures arrive.

“It’s not overly alarming, but it certainly poses the potential,” said Adriane Beck, director of the Office of Emergency Management. “Everything is contingent upon how quickly we warm up and if we get additional precipitation during that time. This proclamation allows us to be prepared.”

The county frequently issues emergency proclamations on a seasonal basis to get ahead of spring flooding for summer wildfires. Such steps simply acknowledge a disaster potential and do not serve as an official forecast.

“We’re not flooding right now, but certainly when we look at the conditions from our report from the National Weather Service, we certainly have the potential,” said Beck. “We’ve had a winter of concern, or a winter for potential spring flooding.”

The water year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, and the last six months have seen significant precipitation. In October, the county was 322 percent of normal and the snowpack in the Clark Fork and Bitterroot river basins now sits at 100 percent of normal.

“That certainly contributed to our soil saturation going into the winter,” Beck said of October’s moisture. “This winter we had below average temperatures for longer periods of time, which helped hold that valley snow for longer than what we typically see.”

Several western Montana counties, including Sanders and Ravalli, have already issued disaster declarations, according to Beck. Statewide, the total damage resulting from spring flooding stands at around $300,000, well below the $1.4 million threshold required for a statewide declaration.

Beck said the emergency proclamation was simply a step toward preparedness.

“That’s the essence of an emergency proclamation – to get ahead of the potential,” she said. “It’s hard to get resources for something you haven’t acknowledged exists.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com