By Justin Franz, 6-26-12
||Caption: Ferndale firefighters and Flathead Electric Cooperative employees respond to a downed tree crossing South Ferndale Drive east of Bigfork on June 26. The tree fell onto power lines causing it to briefly smolder. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Flathead and Lincoln counties have been placed under a flood watch through Wednesday morning and the National Weather Service in Missoula expected the Flathead River in Columbia Falls to crest some time Tuesday night.
Northwest Montana's rivers and streams were rising due to a series of thunderstorms that rocked the area early Tuesday morning, bringing strong winds, marble-sized hail and downing trees and power lines. According to Flathead Electric Cooperative, more than 5,000 people were without power in some areas on Tuesday afternoon.
The National Weather Service's Ray Nickless said the Flathead River near Columbia Falls was expected to exceed flood stage on Tuesday afternoon and peak at 14 to 15 feet late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The river in that area, on average, is 8.6 feet deep.
“I think most residents will be fine,” Nickless said. “We wouldn't see a lot of flooding until it hits the 15.5-foot mark.”
Nickless said if the river exceeded that 15.5-foot mark, areas in Evergreen and low-lying fields would be the first to flood. He said one of the primary reasons the rivers and streams were quickly rising was that the ground is saturated and the Hungry Horse Reservoir is already full.
Tuesday morning’s storm was the catalyst for flood watches that stretched from the Missoula area all the way to the Canadian Boarder. Nickless said by Tuesday evening the storm system would be moving north into Canada.
“We're going to have to keep an eye on things, even as we enter July and exit our normal flood season,” he said.
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