Weather Wise: The worst flood in Montana history

HELENA – Nearly 53 years ago, the worst flood in Montana’s history was literally drowning parts of the state. The flood of 1964 is considered to be Montana’s worst natural disaster.

In the second week of June, 1964, an unprecedented two day rain event produced as much as 14 inches of rain near Choteau, and 16 inches of rain near Browning.

Virtually an entire year’s worth of rain fell in 2 days on top of an above average snowpack, leading to the worst flooding in the state’s history.

It was reported that 31 people lost their lives, with 30 of those deaths being on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Bob Norris, an announcer for Shelby Radio Station KSEN put it, “Tragedy was to be found everywhere, but if any single segment of the population was hit and hit the hardest, it was the Blackfeet Indians on the reservation.

Two dams failed, on Birch Creek and the Two Medicine River, sending a tidal wave of water towards Browning and other towns off the Rocky Mountain Front.  There was little to no warning, and floodwater literally swept people away.  Others had minutes if not seconds to run to higher ground.

Normally picturesque creeks and streams became raging, mile wide rivers.

More than 1,800 homes were destroyed.  More than 8,700 people were evacuated, 252 people rescued by Malmstrom Air Force Base helicopters and the entire town of Choteau was evacuated.

Water flowed over the 199 foot tall Gibson Dam west of Augusta, flooding towns along the Sun River with 50,000 cubic feet of water per second through Fort Shaw, Simms, Sun River, Vaughn and Great Falls.

Damage costs at the time were $62 million, but adjusted for inflation would be $474 million today.