On a personal note, I’m a product of a multi-generational ranching family in the Paradise Valley. Over the generations, we have seen a lot and the Yellowstone River has long had a love/hate relationship with my family. An important source for irrigation, recreation and unparalleled beauty, this weekend brought the violence. What was a ½ rain in the valley, was a 5” rain in the Park basin and surrounding mountains on higher than average snowpack. The Yellowstone River blew apart in historic proportions—higher than ever recorded. Gardiner residents are now referring to their area as the “isolation basin” as the river chewed up roads in Yellowstone Park and took out bridges along US Highway 89 leading into Gardiner. Homes built far from the rivers edge, suddenly found the riverbed under their kitchen floor as the Yellowstone funneled unprecedented flows through tight corridors and forced new channels and routes.
Outside Paradise Valley, other towns and homes were swallowed. Scenes from Red Lodge for example, looked like footage from a sci-fi apocalyptic movie.
The personal loss is incredible and the economic damage will be months in the making as this natural disaster adds a layer of frustration on high gas prices, supply chain problems and labor shortages.
This morning, Governor Gianforte declared a statewide disaster due to current flooding and expected downstream flooding. Scheduling is underway to airlift stranded residents out of Gardiner. And today, the river has receded from those historic highs, but remains well above flood stage and will continue to destroy for days, maybe weeks to come as higher than normal snowpack remains.
That lives weren’t lost is remarkable given the speed and ferocity that conditions changed. And for that, we are thankful.