Missouri River swelling prompts evacuations in the Dakotas

An unusually heavy Rocky Mountain snowmelt coupled with spring rains have swelled the Missouri River and its dams to dangerously high levels, prompting thousands of North and South Dakota residents to evacuate and prepare for flooding.

The rising river flowing through the Dakotas has strained infrastructure designed to protect communities in the Missouri River basin, said Michael Fowle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, S.D.

“It’s the perfect storm, but in the worst sense,” Fowle said. “It’s filling things to the brim here.”

In recent weeks, rains have filled reservoirs along the river, forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open floodgates at six dams in an attempt to clear space for the rapidly melting Rocky Mountain snowcap, said Jody Farhat, chief of Missouri River Basin water management in the corps’ Omaha district.

The corps had been releasing reservoir water into the river in anticipation of the snowmelt, but the record amounts of rainfall in eastern Montana filled up that space. The corps has now stepped up the reservoir releases, and communities are bracing for subsequent flooding. More rain is expected next week, which will exacerbate the situation, Fowle said.


As many as 12,000 people were forced to evacuate in the North Dakota city of Minot, and 1,000 homes in the state capital of Bismarck were under voluntary evacuations, said Cecily Fong, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

In South Dakota, the evacuation of hundreds of homes in Pierre, Fort Pierre and Dakota Dunes was expected to continue into Friday night.