Yampa River anticipated to reach its highest level yet Thursday into Friday

A section of the Yampa River Core Trail at the railroad underpass between Fetcher and Rotary Parks is closed due to flooding. The Yampa River is expected to reach its highest levels yet this season Thursday into Friday while the National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for areas along Elkhead Creek.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Emergency Management is warning residents to expect flooding Thursday, May 4, into Friday, May 5, with the Yampa River anticipated to reach its highest level yet this season.

Emergency Operations Manager David “Mo” DeMorat told Routt County commissioners on Monday, May 1, that the river had hit 6,500 cubic feet per second, and warm temperatures are expected to continue through the week, which could cause the river to reach 7,000 cfs by Friday.  

DeMorat said this amount of water for the Yampa River is considered “action level” flooding by the National Weather Service. Action levels generally require municipalities to keep a closer eye on flooding and have potential mitigation plans and flood warnings in place.  

“Thursday’s into Friday’s flooding should be around average,” DeMorat said. “We do not anticipate seeing major flooding until later on in May.”

To gauge what flooding will look like, the county uses snow-water equivalent gauges that provide estimates for the amount of snowmelt that could occur three to four weeks out. This looks at the amount of snow on the ground, but cannot predict at what rate it will melt.

Because of this, no exact estimates can be given, as it is ultimately the weather and the freeze-and-thaw cycle that will determine at what rate the snow melts.

DeMorat explained to commissioners that these gauges show areas north of Steamboat and the Stagecoach Reservoir currently have the highest potential for flooding.

Three snow-water equivalent gauges stationed north of Steamboat have helped emergency management identify these regions as problem areas for flooding due to the snowpack that could melt. All three are north of Steamboat with one near Dry Lake, one near Lost Dog Creek and another slightly farther northwest. DeMorat noted these locations range from 165-185% of the average snowpack.

He told commissioners that Stagecoach Reservoir is another area of concern with 140% of its average snowpack.

Alongside the problem areas DeMorat named, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Elkhead Creek, particularly where the creek meets the Yampa River. This flood warning began on Monday and will end Friday unless communicated otherwise by the National Weather Service.

The county will begin an emergency operations center on Wednesday, May 3, which will entail daily virtual meetings with districts throughout the county to touch base on flooding, get damage assessments and figure out the best path forward. 

DeMorat encourages everyone to sign up for Routt County emergency alerts. He does not expect people’s homes to be impacted by this week’s flooding, but roads to homes in the area could be impassable. Because of that, DeMorat suggested residents ensure they have at least 72 hours’ worth of food and any prescription medicine.

He noted that local officials throughout the county will be in contact with their constituents to communicate flooding information including problem areas and mitigation efforts.

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