No surprises here: County ends flood emergency as lightning peppers Rockies

Passengers wait out of rain for the next arriving bus on Wednesday. The county has lifted its flood emergency and, due to the wet weather, has yet to issue any proclamations related to fire season. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A receding snowpack and a lower Clark Fork River prompted Missoula County this week to lift its emergency flood proclamation, saying the conditions that warranted the move in April have subsided.

While that may not come as a surprise for those with an eye on the river’s ebb and flow, the cool, wet weather is unusual for July, and it has delayed the county’s annual proclamation of a fire emergency.

“Normally, we’re in a situation by the second week of July where we still have our flood emergency going on and we end that one and immediately issue an emergency declaration for fire season,” said Adriane Beck, director of disaster and emergency services at the county. “Right now, fire season is holding off for a while.”

Over the past few weeks, Missoula has pushed the mid-80s only a handful of times, and it has yet to break the 90-degree mark this year.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the city had received .48 inches of rain over the past 24 hours.

“Our recent trend has been for cool, moist conditions over the Northern Rockies,” said Dan Zumpfe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula. “It’s been an anomalous thing for this time of year, where we should be getting much warmer temperatures and seeing things dry out in the area. It’s a little different than what we’re used to.”

In each of the last two years, Missoula County has issued a flood emergency as it braces for impacts along the Clark Fork River. The flood reached record levels in 2017 and made a surge again this spring.

But the snowpack is all but gone and the river has dropped to more seasonal conditions. The weather, however, remains in a state of flux and wet conditions may continue for the next week.

“That’s good in one way, but in the other way we’ve had lots of lightning the last several days,” said Zumpfe.

“In the last 24 hours, just in the Northern Rockies, we’re counting over 600 ground strikes. That can be concerning for the fire season that’s coming up, but a lot of areas are still pretty green, so the ability for fire to carry is still limited, but it’s getting there by the day.”