Musselshell River flooding

This photo of Jensen Dam was taken Feb. 14 by the National Weather Service in Glasgow. The spillway is losing chunks of fill as flooding continues in the area.

Cold weather has greatly slowed expected flooding in Petroleum County, Undersheriff Bill Cassell said Friday.

The Musselshell River from Melstone to the Fort Peck Reservoir is still flooding, but cold temperatures have begun to lower water levels, he said. All residents affected by the flooding are able to evacuate if necessary.

Two homes, both in western Garfield County, flooded. The flooding threatened as many as 28 homes along the river.

Cassell, who is also Petroleum County's disaster and emergency services coordinator, said county commissioners considered a number of options to clear out ice jams that are blocking the Musselshell. They eventually decided to let nature take its course.

"There's no safe or feasible way to do it without endangering people worse," he said. "It's just better to let them do what they're gonna do. With the current weather conditions and what's predicted for the next week or so, those colder temperatures are going to lower it quite a bit."

By 7:30 p.m. Friday, the river was 8.1 feet, just one tenth of an inch above flood stage. It peaked at more than 13 feet earlier in the week.

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Earlier this year, the American Red Cross of Montana issued a press release urging people to be prepared for ice jams and the floods they may cause.

The Red Cross advises people who may be affected to create an emergency kit that includes food for three days, a cell phone with charger, a week's worth of medication, blankets, a multipurpose knife, tools such as pliers and a screwdriver and flood insurance policies.

It also advised people to make an emergency plan — for family members, pets and livestock — and get in touch with local emergency officials for information.

The National Weather Service forecast for colder weather through next week should continue to cause water levels to drop, Cassell said. Those conditions will reduce the threat to residents, he said.

All roads have been opened for through traffic.

The Petroleum County Sheriff's Office can be contacted at 406-429-6551.

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Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.