Yellowstone River Levels Rising Rapidly

The unseasonably warm temperatures, including the near-record high temperatures in late April, are already having an impact on the region’s river system. In particular, it is hastening the arrival of snowmelt from the mountains to rivers across the region.

“What we’re seeing now is actually that snowpack melting about a month early,” said Keith Meier, Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service office in Billings. “The rises we’re seeing, and we continue to expect to see for the next few days on the rivers, is typical more of mid-to-late May.”

According to hydrographs drawn by the National Weather Service office in Billings, water levels on the Yellowstone River is expected to rise to 8.3 feet by Friday and is not expected to recede until Sunday. As of Wednesday evening, water levels on the Yellowstone River in Billings stands at around 5 feet, according to figures by the NWS.

Other rivers across the region are also registering similarly sharp rise in water levels. However, none of the rivers, including the Yellowstone, are expected to go past flood stage. Similarly, conditions are not ripe for a repeat of 2011’s devastating floods. The early arrival of snowmelt runoffs, however, may create water troubles down the road, Meier said Wednesday.

“In our part of the world, we kind of rely on the snowpack to melt at around the same time every year, and that’s when irrigators need it, and recreationalists need water. Water may be less available, as we get into July and August, when maybe some people may really need that extra water because it’s a usually dry time of the year,” said Meier.

Meier said, however, that it is still too early to tell if there will be drought conditions in the region for 2012 as spring rainstorms could bring more water and moisture to the region.