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Afternoon storms buoying Yampa River tubing after short 2021 season

Storm chances Tuesday, Wednesday before things heat up near 90s by weekend

The Yampa River in downtown Steamboat Springs was filled with people on tubes and paddle boards on Sunday, June 3, 2022. Afternoon storms have been an important part of the river staying open to recreation so far this summer.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Last summer, Pete Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports in Steamboat Springs said the “divine intervention” of a rainstorm saved the prospects of tubing on the Fourth of July.

High water temperatures looked to close the Yampa River at the end of June, but a well-timed storm bought outfitters another few days. It eventually closed on July 7, making 2021 one of the shortest tubing seasons in recent memory. Van De Carr closed up shop and found a summer job.

“We were definitely (trending) to be as bad as last year, and then May turned it around,” Van De Carr said Sunday, July 3, as he stepped back from a busy window renting tubes. “Then these rains. I mean this is the greatest.”



The Yampa River hit 74 degrees on July 3 last year, but on Sunday afternoon it was closer to 65. Stream flows sat at just over 110 cubic feet per second in 2021, but there was about 3 times as much water flowing Sunday, with the gauge at the Fifth Street bridge reading 350 cfs.

Three variables could close the river: If flows drop below 85 cfs, if water temperature exceeds 75 degrees on consecutive days, or if the oxygen level in the water were to drop below 6 milligrams per liter.



But there isn’t talk of closing the river so far as afternoon rainstorms fueled by a push of monsoonal moisture from the southwest have helped curb all of those factors. The Yampa Valley has seen above average rainfall for the second straight month, with June seeing just shy of 3 inches of precipitation compared to the 1.6-inch average.

While this year is trending better than the past handful, Van De Carr said talk of a closure could swiftly surface.

Tubers pass through some rapids on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Sunday, July 3.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“You can’t project. We have indications from Stagecoach Reservoir that is still too low and they’re letting a minimum amount of water out,” Van De Carr said. “It could end pretty quickly so just like we do every year — we prepare for the worst and hope for the best and deal with it day to day.”

The Yampa River below Stagecoach closed to fishing in early June because of low flows, which dropped to just 10 cfs flowing out on June 14. On Sunday afternoon, about 51 cfs was flowing into the reservoir and about 41 cfs out, according to data from the U.S Geological Survey.

“These little frequent rainstorms definitely contribute to the river,” said local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth

Weissbluth, who runs the forecasting website SnowAlarm.com, said there were several more chances for these afternoon thunderstorms this week. While they may not last long, the water they can bring isn’t negligible, he added. Two quick-passing storms to end last week combined to drop almost an inch of rain.

The Fourth of July has lesser chances for rain, as the upper atmosphere lacks much energy, Weissbluth said. That changes Tuesday, July 5, as a storm currently over the Pacific Northwest starts to impact things locally.

“There will be a chance for an afternoon storm where you could get brief localized heavy rain,” Weissbluth said about the Fourth of July. “On Tuesday things might get going earlier (in the day) and Wednesday it looks like we have chances of showers during the day before things dry out.”

By Thursday, July 7, temperatures start to creep above the 81 degrees that is average for early July in Steamboat. The National Weather Service forecasts highs for Thursday and Friday at 86 and 89 degrees, respectively.  

“Saturday will probably be the warmest day of the week,” Weissbluth said. “Heading into (next) week, the temperatures will come down a little bit and it will be mostly on the dry side.”


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