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Rapidly melting snow causes widespread flooding in Clark

Flooding from rapidly melting snow washed away a portion of Park County Road 7RP on Thursday. ‘We had to close a large section of that road,’ said Brian Edwards, Park County engineer. Edwards said county crews will repair 7RP and lesser damage to Road 8UC as soon as possible. Flooding from rapidly melting snow washed away a portion of Park County Road 7RP on Thursday. ‘We had to close a large section of that road,’ said Brian Edwards, Park County engineer. Edwards said county crews will repair 7RP and lesser damage to Road 8UC as soon as possible. Photo courtesy Park County Engineer Office

First, the snow kept falling — storm after storm after storm, since before Christmas.

Beginning in mid-December, Park County road crews plowed county roads again and again, working to provide access to rural roads for area residents.

With each pass of the plows, the snow built up higher on the sides of the roads. From a car, it was impossible to see over the tops of the plowed snow in many places, making it seem like driving through a tunnel.

Then, on Thursday, the wind strengthened and changed direction, coming from the south to become a very strong — and very warm — chinook.

And that was the last ingredient in a recipe for unprecedented flooding in and around Clark on Thursday evening.

Rapidly melting snow ended up washing away a portion of Park County Road 7RP and dealt lesser damage to Road 8UC, forcing county leaders to close portions of both of those roads.

Park County Engineer Brian Edwards said Monday that county crews will repair the roads as soon as possible.

Edwards said he hopes the February thaw will lessen problems with snowmelt later this spring.

“We expect it will be a bad spring for road damage and drainage issues,” he said.

One of the sure signs that something unusual was happening on Thursday came in the form of a 911 call at about 5:30 p.m. from Marian Moore of Clark, who told a dispatcher at the Park County Sheriff’s Office that water had broken the window in a basement window well and was streaming into her basement.

Because problems with flooding aren’t a normal part of law enforcement’s responsibilities, the dispatcher called Dave Hoffert of the Clark Volunteer Fire Department, and asked if he would check out the situation.

“While I was responding, we got two more phone calls” about other weather-related emergencies — the first about a semi truck that had blown onto its side, and another about water running over Road 1AB near the Edelweiss Bar, at the junction of Road 1AB and Wyo. Highway 120.

“I’ve never seen water crossing (Road) 1AB before — not since the highway was built — and it was crossing the highway 3 feet deep for a 400-foot stretch,” said Hoffert.

The water appeared calm, but that was deceiving.

There was a significant current moving across the highway, and it threatened to push Hoffert’s heavy pickup off the highway. A car would have been washed away, he said.

At one point, some 8-inch logs were floating across the road, he added.

“It was literally dangerous, and it didn’t look dangerous,” Hoffert said. “My headlights were going off and on as I was going to her (Moore’s) house.”

Hoffert said Moore’s home is located in an area he would never have expected to be at risk of flooding. It was on higher ground, and there are no creeks nearby.

“But, because of big drifts (and plowed snow) acting like dikes, they were sending water down the roads,” he said in a Monday interview. “The plowed snow diverted water away from where it was supposed to be. It sent water where it didn’t belong. You couldn’t predict anything. You couldn’t figure out why there was water where there was water.”

Hoffert said he was barely able to reach Moore’s house, from just a mile away.

Shining Mountain Road was running 2 feet deep. That road leads to Rock Creek Road, then to Park County Road 8UD, where Moore’s house is located. Through the broken window, a stream of water Hoffert estimated at 30 inches wide and 8-10 inches deep was flowing into Moore’s basement.

At one point, the water depth in the basement grew to 2 feet.

“I thought, ‘Oh, good lord, this basement’s going to be full in an hour,” Hoffert said. “It was like a waterfall.”

He had already determined the location of some sandbags, and he asked the assistant Clark fire chief to send a few more firefighters to help out, if they could get there safely. He learned no one was available.

“It was dark, the wind was screaming, and it blew the glasses off my face,” Hoffert said. “It had to be 50 miles per hour then.”

The highest wind gust in Clark that day was 118 miles per hour at 3:20 p.m., with the temperature rising to about 60 degrees.

That was about the time Clark lost power for roughly an hour and a half. Power had just been restored when the flooding problems began.

Hoffert, who has lived in Clark for 42 years, said he has seen flooding on Line Creek, on Bennett Creek and on Little Rock Creek — but never all at the same time.

“I’ve seen flooding in one place; this was in six to eight places,” he said.

As more calls came in, firefighters who were on the way to help Hoffert and Moore were repeatedly diverted to other flood-related emergencies.

Moore’s neighbor, Noralee Hoefer, came over to help, and between the three of them, they were able place about 25 sandbags to divert the water away from the house.

Shortly afterward, Hoffert left to provide assistance in other places.

Hoffert said county officials tried to keep track of what areas were flooded, but finally gave up and posted a sign at Edelweiss saying all roads were flooded, and no one should be out driving.

The situation calmed down almost as quickly as it started. By 10 p.m., the water began to recede; by midnight, the flood was over. Once the emergency passed, the people who had responded to calls for help realized how exhausted they were.

“I’ve never seen half of what I saw that night,” Hoffert said. “The event was something Clark has never seen — nothing to that degree.

“Insane is the only word I can give you,” he said. “It was incredibly weird.”

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