Raging floods, an occurrence previously unknown in Montana, have prompted the evacuation and closure of Yellowstone National Park.
On the afternoon of June 13th, park officials declared that all of Yellowstone’s entrances were closed to visitors due to the floods as well as a forecast of even more rain over the area.
According to park authorities, the floods forced them to close the park for several days and to evacuate everyone within its immediate vicinity. At the start of the week, nearly 40 people were transported from the area.
Laura Jones, a representative for Rocky Mountain Rotors, the company engaged to transfer residents by helicopter, was quick to correct assumptions that anyone was in immediate danger and that the evacuation was more preventive in nature.
According to park superintendent Cam Sholly, their first priority involved the immediate evacuation of the northern area to prevent harm caused by mudslides, as well as road and bridge failures.
At the time of the flooding, there were approximately 10,000 visitors inside the park – still below the expected 15,000 to 20,000 visitors, but a manageable crowd to move out of harm’s way.
Three Months of Rain in Three Days
A dangerous combination of rapid snowmelt and torrential rains led to widespread flooding in the area, particularly within the northern section of the park. In total, authorities noted three-quarters of a foot of water runoff – essentially three months of rain pouring into the area within just three days.
As of June 13, the waters of the Yellowstone River swelled to a record 13.88 feet due to the nonstop rains and the mountain runoff, surpassing its last peak of 11.5 feet over a century ago in 1918.
The Yellowstone flows through the park as well as several cities within the Park County area, most of which were also affected by flooding.
Meanwhile, the neighboring town of Gardiner has been isolated as rampaging waters washed out both bridges and roads. As of June 14, the floods have caused widespread damage throughout the town; however, full estimates have yet to be disclosed by local government authorities.
Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler whose jurisdiction includes Gardiner remarked that the five-mile stretch of road between the town and nearby Cooke City is in seriously bad shape and may stay closed for the rest of the season. Based on initial assessments, rebuilding the road will be challenging and will take a significant amount of time.
Likewise, the supply of potable water to the northern outskirts of Yellowstone, particularly throughout Park County, has been compromised by broken water mains and submerged wells. Officials warned residents to avoid drinking local water due to the strong possibility of contamination.