Tricky Yellowstone River goes out fighting hard

Above: Tracy Dey photos

Steve and Wanda Jenkins were startled by strange noises after going to bed last Friday evening. Their slough-side home on Belle Prairie sustained significant flood damage when ice jams raised the river level.

Photo courtesy of Kip Braden

Kip Braden submitted a photo of a boat which had washed up in his backyard along River Ave.

After emergency officials had earlier expressed concerns about Yellowstone River jamming and flooding due to a long, hard winter and reports of exceptionally thick river ice, the eventual ice-out on the evening of March 22 was more whimper than roar.

However, the ever-mighty Yellowstone River decided to demonstrate its power to keep people guessing this year.

“On Thursday night when the river made the first appearance of going out, we knew there was still ice upstream,” Dawson County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Mary Jo Gehnert said, adding there were still multiple upstream jams, including at the mouth of the Powder River and near the Cedar Creek Grazing Association.

Approximately 24 hours after the ice went out at Glendive, the upstream jams started to give way.

Gehnert said local response was hindered by a river level gauge that wasn’t functioning properly.

“We know 51.5 feet is minor flood stage. We have plans for 53 and plans for 55, but it wasn’t measuring accurately,” she said. “All we could rely on was the visual.”

Partly as a result of this limited information, Gehnert said she

issued a voluntary

evacuation notice for the Green Valley Campground and Marsh Road.

Gehnert said some people opted to stay and almost as soon as others left a jam downstream near the I-94 bridge broke up.

“It receded just as fast as it climbed,” she said. “Everyone was back in their homes within an hour.”

Marvin Tweet, owner of Green Valley Campground, said his property was not affected much. He said no one moved anything and what water they did have was not enough to affect buildings or trailers.

However as that jam in the north led to subsiding water levels upstream in Glendive, the rush of water took a heavy toll on a newly completed home owned by Steve and Wanda Jenkins on Belle Prairie.

Jenkins said he and Wanda were laying in bed when they heard a grinding sound. They thought it was someone pulling into their driveway. When the sound failed to subside they investigated and found the ice and water swirling near them.

“We sat and watched all hell break loose from the driveway,” he said. “We left with what we had on.”

The home, located about seven miles from where the pavement ends on Belle Prairie Road was completed in December.

“We’ve been living in it for three months,” Jenkins said.

The home was constructed on a previous pad, but Jenkins said they elevated their new home about three feet above the previous level.

The couple carried flood insurance on the property and Jenkins said what comes next is largely up to the insurance adjusters.

“We’re pretty fortunate. We could leave here and get our heads under another roof,” he said. “We got out, so it’s all good.”

Gehnert said as far as she has heard, everywhere else along the river in Dawson County escaped with a close call.

“I called out (the Department of Transportation) as a precaution,” she said, noting the water got close to overrunning I-94 in the low spot between the river and Highway 16 and that she was also tentatively prepared to close Marsh Road. Neither was necessary in the end.

“We had super help from the deputies and police officers Friday night,” she said. “Dispatch did a great job coordinating and it all turned out alright.”

Reach Chad Knudson at