Changeable spring weather is messing with streamflows in the Yampa Valley
Steamboat Springs — The on-again, off-again spring of 2016 is messing with spring runoff.
A federal hydrologist working for the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) in Salt Lake City said Thursday the Yampa River had likely peaked for the season May 18 at more than 16,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) at Deerlodge Park in Moffat County, where the river enters Dinosaur National Monument. But it’s a different story upstream, where the Yampa flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat Springs.
“I don’t think the Yampa has peaked in Steamboat,” senior hydrologist Ashley Nielson said May 19. “The peak may not be much higher than it is right now (2,450 cfs at 4:45 p.m.),” but her computer models suggest the snowpack that feeds the upper Yampa still has some punch in it.
“When we get in these springs with warm periods, then cool weather, and then rain, sometimes we don’t get a pronounced peak, but we get a period of higher flows,” Nielson said.
It was heavy rain in the Little Snake River Drainage that fed the peak flows at Deerlodge, she added.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports the snowpack in the combined Yampa/White Basin is 142 percent of median for the date. The snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass on May 18 was 152 percent of median, and for the first time all “winter” the snowpack on Buffalo Pass had topped 100 percent of median for this time of year.
Based on mid-range weather forecasts, the CBRFC projects the Yampa will begin to climb toward 3,100 cfs Friday and Saturday before another stretch of cool weather drops flows back to the range of 2,400 cfs beginning May 23. They are expected to bounce around at that level until May 28.
Steamboat meteorologist Mike Weissbluth predicted May 18 that the first of two cold fronts would reach the Yampa Valley Sunday afternoon, followed by more cool air from western Canada beginning May 23.
The National Weather Service confirms that, after a predicted high temperature of 71 degrees in Steamboat Saturday, overnight lows in the 30s through May 25 are apt to put the brakes on river flows here. And above-average snowpack in the mountains around Steamboat raises the possibility the river may not peak here until early June. By May 7, 2015, the Yampa had already peaked for the year at 3,550 cfs. In 2014, the river peaked at 4,850 cfs May 29.
The CBRFC reported Thursday that the Yampa at Deerlodge Park was flowing over its banks. And the U.S. Geological Survey reports that river flows there reached 16,200 cfs at 1:15 a.m. May 18.
The desert stretch of the river in Dinosaur will also be under the influence of a cool spell in the coming week. Nielson’s agency expects it to drop to 10,500 cfs next week.
“I think the river at Deerlodge will come back up again after that decrease,” she said.
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