by nathan oster
There have been some tense moments around Shell and Hyattville, but for the most part it looks as though Big Horn County has dodged the bullet in terms of flooding associated with the spring runoff.
Brent Godfrey, the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office’s flood incident commander, said Tuesday afternoon, “We’re looking pretty good right now. The creeks are down. The only one we may still have a problem with is Medicine Lodge Creek (in Hyattville), which is running higher than the rest.
“But all the others — the Big Horn, Nowod, Paintrock, Shoshone, Shell Creek — are down.”
The Office of Homeland Security seems to agree. It’s had people on the ground in Big Horn County for the last couple of weeks, but demobilized on Tuesday and returned to their home base in Cheyenne.
“We’re all thinking the worst part is over — barring no major cloudburst or anything of that sort that will make the creeks rise real high real fast.”
Godfrey said the weather has helped, noting that there has been a warm up, a cool down and then another warm up. “It’s coming off slow instead of fast, like it did in 2011, when we also had four or five straight days of rain. Mother Nature helped us out a little.”
Close calls in Shell
Shell Fire Chief Mike Nelson said members of his department were deployed one morning last week to the Kedesh Ranch, which was being threatened by Shell Creek. Working side by side with other volunteers, they filled sandbags to protect the structures at the ranch.
As of Monday, the threat had subsided. The creek was running about 800 cubic feet per second — down from 2,500 cubic feet per second on the morning the fire department placed the sandbags.
Nelson said high water also threatened but did not damage a couple of properties on Trapper Creek and that it badly eroded the bank of a house on Beaver Creek.
The Kedesh Ranch has had its share of flooding problems in the past.
“Three summers ago, we had a horrendous flood that did a lot of damage and was a mess to clean up,” said Gail Lander, who owns the property. “This year we were looking at the same scenario, with a lot of late snow piling up in the mountains.”
Lander admitted, “I was heartsick” over the prospect of another flood. “I said, ‘Lord, I can’t take it again.’ It’s been so far, so good.”
Lander said the creek is continuing to run up and over her bridge, and that the water took out some trees further downstream. “Thank goodness for the Shell Fire Department,” she said. “They came out and sandbagged — they even brought some of their teenage kids to help. Plus there were people from town who came out to help. Jim at Dirty Annie’s sent coffee and donuts over for everybody. People from Shell come up to me now and say if I need help, I should call. What an awesome community.”
Ernie Smith, Greybull’s emergency management coordinator, has been monitoring the level of the Big Horn River throughout the spring runoff period. As of Monday night, its elevation was at 85.45 — about two inches below the FG setting on the bridge support.
“The highest we had was Sunday morning at 3 when we reached 87.3,” Smith told the town council on Monday night. “It’s come down 18 inches since then.
“Most of the immediate snowmelt has happened in the Big Horn Basin. We still have some snow at the high levels (of the mountains), but it’s not as much of a concern because the immediate snowmelt up to 9,000 feet has disappeared.”