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June turns up heat on persistent snowpack in Yampa Valley

Streamflows nearing peak for River Fest

Steamboat Springs 100-year floodplain
File photo

— A cool month of May kept the Yampa and Elk rivers near Steamboat Springs from misbehaving, but as June turns up the heat, the rivers are rising toward their annual peaks. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center foresees the Elk, near its confluence with the Yampa, could rise just into the range of a minor flood by Monday or Tuesday.

Routt County Emergency Manager Bob Struble confirmed Wednesday that the Elk at minor flood stage typically does not threaten property and county roads.

“I’ve kind of been waiting for it, and now, it’s getting warm,” Struble said. “If it does get that high, I think it will just be water out in the hayfields.”



The National Weather Service in Grand Junction is forecasting that, by June 3, daily high temperatures in Steamboat could be 10 degrees higher than normal for this time of year. That translates into a forecast high of 78 degrees June 5 and 79 degrees June 6 on the valley floor. June 6 temperatures above 10,000 feet are forecast to be 60 degrees.

Combine those temperatures with the unusually high amount of snowpack lingering in the mountains, and the rivers are due to rise.



The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the snow water equivalent, or SWE, on Rabbit East Pass is 15 inches of moisture, compared to the median of 4.5 inches for June 1, representing 333 percent of the median. It’s just as impressive in Whiskey Park in extreme northern Routt County, where the SWE still measures 21.3 inches, or 338 percent of median.

Struble pointed out that the persistent snowpack is evident just from looking at Storm Peak near the summit of the Steamboat Ski Area.

“You can tell just by looking at the mountain,” Struble said. “It’s come off good so far. Maybe we’ll peak next week. That would fall in line with historic flows (for) that one month period,” from May to early June.

The Elk was flowing at a relatively sedate 2,440 cubic feet per second June 1 (the record for the date is 4,890, recorded in 1984), but the CBRFC shows the Elk climbing steeply and anticipates the river could rise to 6,100 cfs, just above minor flood level of 7.5 feet, by June 6. It’s expected to reach daily peaks in that range through June 8 before gradually subsiding to 6.5 feet by June 10.

The CBRFC foresees the Yampa at Steamboat Springs nearing bank full at 6.5 feet, or about 4,000 cfs, before receding from more than 4,000 cfs to 3,200 cfs June 10 and 11. Those predictions are based upon mid-range weather forecasts and can easily change.

Recent history

The Elk was under a mild flood warning as recently as June 2, 2014, when the National Weather Service specifically cautioned the Elk could threaten homes where it flows beneath Routt County Road 42.

Struble said the river did not cause any road damage in that instance, nor did it truly threaten any homes.

It also was in 2014 that Walton Creek, a tributary of the Yampa at the south end of Steamboat, rose to within a few feet of the back porches of homeowners in Indian Meadows Townhomes.

It was in early June 2011 that one family was forced to evacuate a home as the Elk flowed over Routt County Road 44. The river had risen to 7.9 feet (flood stage is 7.5 feet).

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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