Yellowstone River water rescue
REBECCA NOBLE, Gazette Staff

BILLINGS -- The Yellowstone River is running quickly and should near flood stage levels this weekend in Billings, according to the National Weather Service.

On Wednesday NWS issued a flood warning for southwestern Yellowstone County and south central Montana, with specific mention of bank erosion edging closer to Thiel Road in Laurel. 

"Local law enforcement was reporting as much as 10 to 15 feet of the bank along Thiel Road has been eroded in spots and this could threaten homes and property," according to the warning. "The Yellowstone River was still within its banks south of Laurel, but lowland flooding was occurring in isolated spots. Additional rises in water levels are expected Thursday afternoon and should continue through the weekend." 

NWS meteorologist Dan Borsum said that the flood warning in Laurel is mainly due to bank erosion and the issues it could cause.

"The river's trying to carve a new channel," Borsum said. "There hasn't been a lot of inundation in low-lying areas." 

Near Edgar and Belfry, the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River is expected to peak at flood stage levels by Friday. 

The river hit just a touch over flood stage levels on Wednesday in Belfry but will be a foot above that by Friday, when it is predicted to hit 9 feet. 

Similarly the river evened out at flood stage levels in Edgar on Wednesday and is forecast go a foot above on Friday and reach 9.5 feet.

In Carbon County "we expect lowland flooding and some roads that are close to the river to possibly see some water get up to them," Borsum said. "I think the biggest threat that people need to be worried about is that with this water running really fast, there is a chance for the erosion factor to undercut banks."

Some water will probably reach Byam Road in Yellowstone County near the Clarks Fork, Borsum said. 

"Equipment and people near the river banks could see some problems certainly," he said. 

In Billings, the Yellowstone River will peak Saturday at 13 feet, about half a foot below flood stage. It will be the highest the river has run since 2011 when it reached 14.37 feet, according to Borsum.

The highest NWS records show the Yellowstone River running in Billings was in 1997 when the river reached 15 feet. 

The Clarks Fork near Belfry will reach levels not seen since 1996. 

Borsum said vigilance is important considering forecasts and current conditions in regional waterways. 

"Debris can jam up against a bridge and all of a sudden things can change," he said. "Communicate with law enforcement, communicate with local folks and be ready to help neighbors." 

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