Will all this snow in Routt County cause major flooding this spring?

Local officials don't know but prepare for a high-risk flood season either way

A bus shelter is swallowed by flood waters in a parking lot in front of the Steamboat Hotel one wet springs in Steamboat Springs. Local officials are gearing up for what could be a high-risk flood season. Residential areas near water sources, such as the Yampa River, could be subject to evacuation if conditions are bad enough.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A winter almost guaranteed to drop 400 inches of snow has officials across Routt County planning for what could be a high-risk flood season. 

According to Emergency Operations Director David DeMorat, all jurisdictions in the county plan to meet sometime in March to review and update the flood plan from 2019. 

“We have to go over and identify triggering events that launch water levels and what actions we need to take for those events,” DeMorat said. 

A high-risk flood season depends on how warm spring is and how quickly it comes. In the event of colder springs, the snow will melt more slowly and it is less likely that there will be drastic flooding. Either way, with the possibility of high-risk flooding, the county has to plan.

DeMorat said it’s easier to carry out preventative actions to mitigate flooding if officials are aware of what areas in the county are most prone to flooding. 

He indicated that, fortunately, there is not an abundance of houses or residences in known flood zones, but that does not exclude people in the county from being evacuated in a dangerous flooding event.  

“Most of our activities in flood mitigation this year involve monitoring water levels so if we have to send out any kind of evacuations we know where to look and have those already scripted and prepared,” DeMorat said.  

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Residential areas closer to water sources, such as Sleepy Bear mobile home park, are more susceptible to evacuation. By the time the flood season rolls around, the county should have shelters identified. 

DeMorat said he had concerns about crowding of traffic in the event of flooding due to road closures. He indicated he worried about law enforcement’s ability to respond to events if roads and bridges become impassable due to a buildup of water.

Keeping culverts and the road clear will play a key role in ensuring that water buildup doesn’t occur.  

Hayden Public Works Director Bryan Richards said Hayden will follow the direction of the county for flood mitigation and has already identified high-risk flood areas, some of which are actually outside town lines. 

“The residences in the area near the Yampa River that are at high risk for flooding are actually outside of Hayden city limits, but they are still our neighbors and we help them in those situations,” Richards said. 

It’s unclear how a potentially heavy flooding season will impact wildfire threat. If the snow sticks around a while and melts slowly, it could create less dry summer conditions, making it more difficult for wildfires to start. If the snow melts quickly, it could cause grass to grow quickly, providing more fuel for wildfires once it dries out.

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