On June 7th, 1964 a warm weather system swept into Montana, dropping 10-to-12-inches of rain over the course of two days. The rapid snowmelt combined with the heavy downpour led the rivers to quickly overflow. Long-time Columbia Falls resident Ron Buentemeier says there had been high water years and flooding in the past, but in 1964 the water came up much faster than anticipated.
“It was just kind of a wall of water. You read about dams collapsing, and this big wall of water coming. And I kind of think, in my vision, or my recollection, that’s kind of what happened in ’64. It wasn’t a big wall, but the water rose so quickly,” Buentemeier said.
No lives were lost in the Flathead due to the flood. But elsewhere in the state the quickly rising waters took lives. Kari Musgrove with the Flathead Conservation District says at least 30-people on the Blackfeet Reservation died in the flood.
“So, this flood wasn’t just located in the Flathead, it was located on 20% of the state,” Musgrove said.
Musgrove has been organizing a 50-year commemoration of the flood.
“This was a rare event, it’s not really been seen since in recorded history, and we don’t know when we’ll see it next. But, we know now what our watershed is capable of,” Musgrove said.
On Thursday evening the Flathead Conservation District hosts an event at the Flathead Valley Community College commemorating the flood through science and stories. At 1 in the afternoon on Thursday the U-S Geological Survey and National Weather Service are dedicating a high water marker at the Teakettle Fishing site on the Flathead River in Columbia Falls.