Flooding closes Yellowstone National Park, isolates Gardiner, and evacuates part of Red Lodge

Rock Creek shatters old record while communities report multiple bridges swept away

By: - June 13, 2022 2:00 pm

Northeast Entrance Road washed out near Soda Butte Picnic Area (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park via Flickr).

Yellowstone National Park is temporarily closed, as are many of the communities nearby the park after weekend rain storms caused the area to flood, washing out many roads and bridges.

Park officials on Monday afternoon said the closure would last through at least Wednesday at a minimum.

The full damage of the rain is still being assessed by officials in the park and nearby. The Montana communities of Gardiner and Red Lodge are essentially closed off because of concerns about flooding, washed out roads and damaged bridges.

High water area and some of the washed out road way along the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park on June 13, 2022 (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park via Flickr).

“The community of Gardiner is currently isolated, and we are working with the county and State of Montana to provide necessary support to residents, who are currently without water and power in some areas. Due to predictions of higher flood levels in areas of the park’s southern loop, in addition to concerns with water and wastewater systems, we will begin to move visitors in the southern loop out of the park later today in coordination with our in-park business partners,” said Yellowstone Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “We will not know timing of the park’s reopening until flood waters subside and we’re able to assess the damage throughout the park. It is likely that the northern loop will be closed for a substantial amount of time. I appreciate the efforts of the Yellowstone team and partners to safely evacuate areas of the park and of our gateway community partners who are helping us through this major event. We appreciate the support offered by the Department of Interior, National Park Service and the Montana and Wyoming governors.”

All areas of the park are temporarily closed to inbound traffic, with no estimate of when it will reopen. Park officials there said that they’re still assessing “flooding, rockslides and mudslides” as well as looking at how to stabilize roads and bridges. They’ve also said that repairing the damage could take months and some areas may have to close for safety.

This closure includes visitors with lodging and camping reservations. And power is out to multiple locations in the park.

“With additional rainfall forecasted, the park does not want large numbers of day-use visitors stranded,” park officials said.

6/13/22 Conditions of Yellowstone’s North Entrance Road through the Gardner Canyon between Gardiner, Montana, and Mammoth Hot Springs.

The Yellowstone River in multiple places in the park are already beyond record level.

The United States Geological Survey Water Watch for the Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs, Montana. The previous record was set in 1918 at 11.5 feet, and at 10 a.m., Monday the river was at 13.62 feet (USGS via Twitter).

Red Lodge closures

Currently, residents in Red Lodge, in far south central Montana is also a community that sustained heavy damage as Rock Creek, a large creek that serves as the collector for much of the community’s snow and rain breached the banks and sent waters flooding into town.

The banks of Rock Creek breached north of Highway 308, by the popular “Red Box Car” restaurant, and flooded Broadway and 19th Streets.

Taking to Facebook at around 3:30 a.m. on Monday, Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz warned residents to stay away and briefed the community about what was happening. The Carbon County Offices were closed, sandbagging efforts had begun, and even the city council meeting had been postponed.

Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz speaks on Facebook about flooding there at shortly past 3:30 a.m., June 13, 2022 (Carbon County Alert Facebook).

“We’re asking people to stay away. I know that people want to go and see, but it’s extremely dangerous. We watched a part of the sidewalk, just north of the Red Caboose just fall into Rock Creek. Luckily, no one was walking on it, but we will get out and look at stabilization efforts as soon as it’s safe,” Kuntz said.

Two bridges on East Side road were washed out, as well as bridges on Ninth Street and 19th Street. Parkside Road was also closed and the bridge along Highway 78 was washed out near Roscoe.

A broken city water main has also forced officials to issue a “boil” order, which means that residents should boil any water before drinking or cooking with it. Red Lodge had to turn off water for some time, too.

Mandatory evacuations took place of the east side of Broadway toward Rock Creek from 14th Street to 19th Street, and officials set up a temporary emergency shelter.

The National Weather Service warned that the wet, rainy weather, already coupled with snowpack that is well above 100 percent of normal have combined to make the flooding historic. According to the United States Geological Survey, Rock Creek was flowing at more than 2,000 cubic feet per second, almost doubling the previous record which had stood for more than 75 years of 1,230 cfs.

A bridge washed out at Rescue Creek in Yellowstone National Park on June 13, 2022 (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park via Flickr).

The National Weather Service said some of the flooding is also likely due to burned over areas from the forests that have recently burned. The scorched soil doesn’t hold the same amount of water and the barren landscape means that water usually flows over the top of the soil instead of soaking into it, resulting in flash flooding.

On the West

On the western side of the state, authorities were preparing for any flooding, but had only reported minor flooding on Monday morning.

The Missoulian reported some flooding along the Flathead River between Glacier National Park and Bigfork. It also reported some spillover at Lake Como and minor flooding on some other rivers in western Montana.

The National Weather Service is forecasting light rain through most of the state on Monday, with some severe rainstorms and thunderstorms on the far eastern portion of the state, near Broadus and Ekalaka.

The mid-June rain will give way to strong winds east of the Continental Divide on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing wind gusts of as much as 50 mph.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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