A deluge that soaked much of the Montana Hi-Line with as much as eight inches of rain earlier this month caused record flooding that had some areas still under water on Friday.
"The good news is things are not getting worse," said Tanja Fransen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Glasgow. "They are gradually improving."
From Aug. 21 through 25, heavy storms dropped four to eight inches of rain from Glasgow to Malta, swelling streams and rivers to the point of spilling over their banks and into the surrounding areas, including over roads and into homes and buildings.
"As far as the flood goes nothing tragic happened that I know of except for lots of dollars in damage," said Paul Tweten, Valley County road supervisor.
The flooding on the Milk River started in tributaries before spreading to the river itself.
According to the NWS, Beaver Creek at Hinsdale set a new record when it reached 19.52 feet, breaking the old record of 19.44 feet set in 2011.
Fransen said that the Milk River at Nashua normally flows at about 250 cubic feet per second this time of year and that the record before this year was 2,240 cfs, set in 1990.
"This week we saw it hit 12,400 cfs," she said. "We're at about five times what the previous record was."
While the flood waters blocked and washed out roads across the region and damaged numerous bridges, officials said that most residents could, in one way or another, access their property by Friday.
Tweten said that a number of roads remain closed in Valley County, especially ones that aren't paved.
On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management issued an assessment of damage in Blaine, Phillips and Valley counties with a focus on road conditions.
"Roads are wet, but drying has improved with sunshine the last few days," said Stanley Jaynes, BLM field manager in Havre. "To prevent getting stuck or stranded, motorists should avoid dirt roads a few more days, if possible. This will also reduce further road damage."
Fransen said flooding hit at least 13 roads in Fergus County, although most have since reopened.
In Petroleum County, Sheriff Bill Cassell — who is also the county Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator — spent much of the week scouring county roads, searching out flooded areas, helping residents and assessing damage.
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As of Friday, he'd counted at least 22 road sites impacted, along with four bridges that were either damaged or destroyed, and said some roads were so bad that he couldn't even get through them in a full-sized Humvee.
"If a stream crossed underneath the road, it went over the top of the road with the rains," he said. "And that's the whole county. This is pretty much a countywide flooding event."
Past the roads, the rain and flooding also filled basements and crawlspaces with water, damaged crops and isolated livestock.
Fransen said that the state weekly crop report indicates that 80 to 90 percent of the Montana's wheat crop hasn't been harvested, meaning that plenty of the expected annual yield expected in northern Montana was exposed to the storm and floods.
"The huge impact could be on the crops," she said. "When you put five inches of rain on top of your wheat crop, what does that do to it?"
Officials in each county said on Friday that it was too early to get an exact estimate on the damage, with portions of many roads still under water and inaccessible for evaluation.
However, at least two of the counties — Valley and Petroleum — have already submitted a request to Montana Disaster Emergency Service for Gov. Steve Bullock to declare it a disaster.
Steve Knecht, deputy administrator of the state DES, said that early, rough figures estimate damage in Valley County at around $250,000 while it could be between $500,000 and $750,000 in Petroleum County.
"There's still a lot of water out there," he said. "It's fairly flat so it takes a while for that water to flush through. We're hoping by early to mid next week we'll be able to make some final determinations and lay it on the line for the governor's office. When you get up to eight inches of rain in just a couple of days, it just takes a long time for that water to go down."
Officials said that while the flooding is severe, it's not quite up to the levels of 2011, when record rains and higher-than normal snowpack combined with late, quick spring runoff to chew the region for much of the spring and parts of the summer.
Cassell said the floods have cause plenty of damage and headaches but that people the region mostly know how to deal with them. However, he cautioned everyone to still be careful, and patient, on the roads while advising ones impacted by flooding be avoided if possible, especially since many are in rural areas without cell phone service.
"There's a lot of basements flooded but no houses lost or anything like that," he said. "A lot of farmers lost some crop or have critters stranded. Please be careful driving around on the county roads.
"It's all manageable. We're kind of practiced in this. We've had several years of it now. But it takes time to get stuff built back up after something like this."