A rapid spring snowmelt after an unusually wet winter triggers flooding from the Southwest to the Rocky Mountains, prompting residents there and the upper Midwest to stock up on sandbags amid raging creeks and rivers.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, neighbors have been working side by side with shovels on a street since Tuesday to ward off floodwaters from their homes.
Three creek retention ponds installed last year initially helped, city emergency officials said. But water has engulfed the shoulder of a local freeway, and roads and sidewalks are closed. Even sections of urban trails are flooded.
Officials are calling it an unprecedented amount of water, something that was impossible to plan for.
“It would be nice to have an accurate model of what we need to do. But we don’t know that,” Flagstaff Deputy Mayor Austin Aslan told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We don’t know what the next fire will be like or where that scar will be. There are small differences that direct the water to one neighborhood or another.”
Sandoval County in northern New Mexico issued an emergency disaster declaration following severe flooding in communities near the Jemez River. The river was 2 meters high as of Thursday afternoon, according to the US Geological Survey. Residents of the village of Jemez Pueblo, known for its hot mineral springs, collected sandbags as a precaution.
The flood of water also caused a sewage treatment plant to overflow, which contributed to a surge in the Jemez River. The US Forest Service warns the public not to fish or drink water south of the facility.
In Salt Lake City, Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an emergency order late Wednesday to help residents whose homes in the southeastern part of the city were threatened by flooding. Rapidly melting snow on the nearby mountains caused water to rush through a neighborhood stream, prompting the voluntary evacuation of about 100 homes.
The water receded as cooler weather moved to the area. Still, several mudslides were reported on canyon roads, including one that forced the temporary closure of Interstate 80 southeast of the city early Thursday.
On Wednesday, local officials north of Salt Lake City issued evacuation orders for at least 20 homes in Kaysville, where flooding tore a large cut that damaged a street, sidewalks and driveways in a subdivision under construction.
Meanwhile, heavy snowpack and elevations expected to reach 60 degrees Thursday caused flooding in northwest Colorado, where traffic officials closed Highway 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs, a popular ski resort that has received more than 40 inches of snow this winter.
Flooding in the small mountain town of Hayden forced schools to close for the day and rain was possible in the area on Thursday afternoon before turning to snow overnight.
The Colorado Department of Transportation posted photos online showing Dry Creek spilling its banks at a bridge in Hayden, as well as flood water threatening several parked recreational vehicles.
The national weather service issued a flood warning through Saturday noon, warning that some roads could become impassable and urging motorists not to drive through flooded river crossings.
As of Thursday, there had been no reports of major damage in Utah or Colorado.
As rapid snow melt and possible April rain showers stoke fears of severe flooding in the Northern Plains, state officials are announcing flood control plans and residents are assembling thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of sandbags to fight the floods themselves.
The Red River Valley, which includes Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, is at risk of flooding as warm weather melts snow left over from one of the snowiest winters on record in the two states.
And given the spring timing, “significant rain could have a major impact on the extent of the flood crest,” Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman told Minnesota Public Radio. “That’s the only joker that we really can’t predict at this point.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has declared a statewide emergency for spring flooding and made the National Guard available to help fight flooding in the coming weeks, the Bismarck Tribune reported. The city of Bismarck opened places where residents could fill their own sandbags.
Associated Press writers Matthew Brown of Billings, Montana and Thomas Peipert of Denver contributed to this report.