Soggy holiday weekend forecast sets up nicely for Steamboat’s 35th Yampa River Fest May 30-31 |

Soggy holiday weekend forecast sets up nicely for Steamboat’s 35th Yampa River Fest May 30-31

Steamboat's Sarah Piano rides the crest of Charlie's Hole's wave at the 2014 Yampa River Festival's freestyle kayak competition.
Ben Ingersoll

— Steamboat Springs is within an inch of the all-time precipitation record with nine days remaining in the merry month of May.

Art Judson, a weather observer whose rain gauge is between downtown and the ski mountain, reported as of 7:20 a.m. Friday that he had recorded 4.77 inches of rain for the month thus far. The record was set in 1995 when 5.66 inches fell here, according to records on the National Weather Service website. And in the three hours following Judson’s morning report, a steady rain continued to fall.

It’s all good news for the 35th Yampa River Festival taking place May 30 and 31. With the rain boosting river flows to near normal, organizer Charlie Preston-Townsend said competitive kayakers from well beyond Northwest Colorado are taking note.

“The paddling community is similar to the skiing community,” Preston-Townsend said. “We follow what the weather is doing in the mountains. The Yampa is an uncontrolled river so it largely depends on weather — these rains will definitely contribute to a higher flow for the festival.”

The Memorial Day weekend forecast for Steamboat from the Weather Service doesn’t even hint at summer; the chance for precipitation drops to 50 percent Saturday and Sunday and overnight temperatures are expected to reach the mid-30s. Tuesday is likely the soonest Yampa Valley residents will glimpse the sun, with a forecast for partly sunny skies.

Drought is not in Steamboat’s forecast this summer, in fact, this could be a good time to invest in a new rain shell. The National Climate Center reported Thursday that chances favor a wetter summer than usual, with the probability that June, July and August will also see above average precipitation. The wildflower forecast is also bullish.

Hydrologist Ashley Nielson with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City confirmed that the Yampa River, measured at the stream gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge, almost certainly peaked for the season at 3,320 cubic feet per second May 7. But she left a little wiggle room.

“None of the current model guidance is indicating it getting higher than it did on May 7,” she said on May 18. “However, if the basin received significant precipitation, flows could once again increase.”

Nielson’s forecast that the river could rise again, if not reach a new peak, proved to be on target.

The Yampa at Charlie’s Hole below the confluence with Soda Creek was flowing about 200 cubic feet per second below the median for the date on May 18, but bounced back above 2,000 cfs and despite a drop in flows. On Thursday, it was back above 2,000 cfs and very close to the median flow for the date at 2,060 cfs.

The Yampa below Craig measured 4,230 cfs at midday Friday.

Average flows in the Yampa for late May mean a new event at the Whitewater Rodeo should prove to be a success.

Preston-Townsend said river rafts will join kayakers in the rodeo on the standing wave known as Charlie’s Hole (it’s not named after Preston-Townsend). This is an event for experienced whitewater rafters wearing wet suits to guard against the frigid water. Their goal will be to surf the wave at Charlie’s Hole as long as possible, but it’s what happens when they fail that promises to delight the crowds.

“It should be fun for spectators,” Preston-Townsend said. “It’s guaranteed carnage actually. The best way for a raft to get out of a hole is to flip.”

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

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