14 June 2011


For most of us in the northern hemisphere, summer is already well under way. But in the lands and watersheds on either side of the northern Rocky Mountains, spring has barely arrived -- and with ominous portent. You see, this past winter featured record snowfalls in the upper elevations of the mountains. The late advent of spring, coupled with copious amounts of rainfall, results in snowmelt too rapid for the region's streams and rivers to hold. The result is flooding, in proportions which rival the epic floods of 1964 (under similar snowmelt conditions) which burst three dams in Montana, and sent floodwaters surging for hundreds of miles downstream.

Even this late in June, much snow remains in the mountains. The annual clearing of Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park has been delayed by not only the sheer volume of snow on that spectacular drive, but also by the continual threat of avalanches from the slopes above. The image above shows the Logan Pass Visitor Center, located at the Continental Divide, still buried in snow on June 4 (with an even closer view here. The image below shows the same scene as it normally appears in summer, during the height of tourist season.

Already many communities west of the mountains are experiencing snowmelt flooding, as are communities east of the mountains, along the Rocky Mountain Front. Health departments and disaster services are publishing advice on how to prepare for, and respond to, massive flooding. Here is a list of recommended flood preparations, courtesy of the Choteau Acantha.

These snowmelt conditions are no joke. The disruption to community life, the destruction of property, and the potential for death among livestock and people, are real and harrowing. Readers who live in more temperate climates, please send a kind thought to the residents of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and areas downstream.

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