Melting snow causes southwest flooding in Rocky Mountains, 2 rescues

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A rapid spring snowmelt after an unusually wet winter is triggering southwestern flooding in the Rocky Mountains, forcing residents there and the upper Midwest to evacuate or stock up on bags of sand amid expanding streams and rivers.

In New Mexico, emergency crews rescued people from at least two high-water vehicles Thursday night in Jemez Pueblo north of Albuquerque, the National Weather Service said.

But there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. A flood warning was in effect for communities along the Jemez River until next week.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., neighbors on a street have been working side by side since Tuesday with shovels to keep floodwater away from their homes.

Three creek retention ponds installed last year helped better navigate water that rushed from the scorched mountains above the city, officials said. Still, water engulfed the shoulder of a local highway, and several roads and sidewalks were closed this week as the weather warmed and snow melted, pouring into neighborhoods. Sections of urban trails were also submerged.

Officials said it was a storyline that came without a playbook.

“It would be nice to have an exact model of what we need to do, but we don’t,” Austin Aslan, vice mayor of Flagstaff, told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We don’t know what the next fire will look like or where that scar will be. There are small differences that will direct the water to one neighborhood or another.

Sandoval County in north-central New Mexico issued a disaster emergency declaration following severe flooding in communities near the Jemez River.

No evacuations had been ordered, but residents of an area between Jemez Pueblo and Jemez Springs that regularly floods during the summer rainy season were picking up sandbags as a precaution. A local police chief estimated that a dozen homes and other structures along the river were at risk of flooding with water.

“Warm temperatures continue to cause the snowpack to melt rapidly, resulting in increased river flow,” the Albuquerque National Weather Service said late Thursday.

The deluge also caused overflows from a sewage treatment plant, which was contributing recycled water to the Jemez River. The US Forest Service advised people not to fish in the river or drink the water south of the plant.

In Salt Lake City, Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an emergency ordinance late Wednesday to help residents whose homes were threatened by flooding in the southeast part of the city. Rapidly melting snow in the nearby mountains caused water to flow into a neighborhood creek, prompting the voluntary evacuation of about 100 homes.

The water was receding as cooler weather moved into the area. Even so, several mudslides were reported on the roads in the canyon, 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 through a large gash that damaged a street, sidewalks and driveways in an under-construction subdivision. .

Meanwhile, heavy snowfall and highs expected to reach 60 degrees on Thursday caused flooding in northwest Colorado, where transportation officials closed Highway 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs, a ski area popular that received more than 400 inches (1,016 centimeters) of snow this winter. .

Flooding in the small mountain town of Hayden has forced schools to close. Rain was forecast for Thursday afternoon, with the expectation of turning to snow overnight.

The Colorado Department of Transportation posted photos online showing Dry Creek overflowing its banks onto a bridge there, as well as floodwaters threatening several parked recreational vehicles.

The National Weather Service said some roads could become impassable over the weekend and urged motorists not to drive through flooded crossings.

As of Thursday, no major damage was reported in Utah or Colorado.

In the northern plains, rapid snowmelt and possible showers in April fueled fears of heavy flooding. Residents have assembled thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of sandbags to retain water.

The Red River Valley, which includes Fargo in North Dakota and Moorhead in Minnesota, experienced one of the snowiest winters on record. Heavy rains could cause the river to rise quickly, Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman told Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said at a press conference Thursday that the state is ready to respond with financial flood assistance if needed.

He added that warmer temperatures and rising waters due to climate change have factored into the state’s months-long preparation for the spring flood season.

Local, state and federal public safety and emergency management partners have stepped up their surveillance and preparedness efforts, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has declared a statewide emergency for spring flooding, and he’s made the National Guard available to help with the floods in the coming weeks, said reported the Bismarck Tribune. The town of Bismarck has opened sites for residents to fill their own sandbags.

In northern Montana, the Milk River was expected to reach its highest level in more than a decade and submerge some rural areas.

Emergency officials along the river in Glasgow were patrolling the sea wall protecting the city of around 3,200 people to make sure it held firm, said Rick Seiler, disaster and emergency services co-ordinator for the county of Valley. Shelters were provided in case low areas needed to be evacuated.

Flooding is expected to continue through next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavy rain was falling in the region on Thursday as snow continued to accumulate at higher elevations, Seiler said.


Associated Press writers Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis; Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana; Terry Tang in Phoenix; Thomas Peipert in Denver; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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