Yampa River flows unusually high for mid April | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa River flows unusually high for mid April

Snowmelt pouring off valley floor into river

Butcherknife Creek flowed close to an Old Town Steamboat home at the east end of Spruce Street April 14.

— The Yampa River was flowing at more than three times the median volume for April 14, but a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction confirmed the rushing river was rising due to rapid, low-level snowmelt, and the peak of spring runoff is likely still well in the future.

The Yampa was flowing at 1,650 cubic feet per second at mid-afternoon Thursday after dropping from its daily peak of 1,790 cfs, recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey just after midnight. Those flows compare to the median flow for April 14 of 470 cfs.

"About a week ago, the Yampa began to show a general trend upward with daily swings," NWS forecaster Dennis Phillips said. "There was a surge with temperatures getting so warm, we saw water run off throughout the night. Low elevation runoff could crest soon."

With the same thought in mind, the city of Steamboat Springs advised residents living near the smaller creeks that feed the Yampa within the city limits to pay close attention.

"While peak flows can vary, the Yampa River generally peaks in late May to early June, while smaller tributaries, such as Butcherknife Creek, Burgess Creek and Spring Creek, can peak significantly early in the year," the Public Work Department advised residents in a news release. Public Works went as far as saying Butcherknife, which flows out of Strawberry Park into the eastern end of Old Town near Stehley Park, may already be at peak flows.

A spot survey of Soda and Butcherknife creeks Thursday morning showed Soda Creek flowing vigorously, but well below flood stage, while the smaller Butcherknife was flowing near its banks in places on the eastern end of Missouri and Spruce streets. The city had placed a low row of sandbags at one bend in the creek to deter the stream from flowing into the park.

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Consulting forecasts by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Phillips said the expectation is that the nearby Elk River, which drains the west side of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, should peak on or near June 1. A similar long-range forecast for the Yampa hasn't been posted.

With a colder storm front due to influence weather in the Yampa Valley for the next four days or so, the forecast center anticipates the Yampa will calm down, with flows gradually receding into next week, Phillips said.

Historical data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey confirms how unusual this week's flow on the town stretch of the Yampa has been. The record flow for April 14 on the Yampa at the Fifth Street Bridge was the 2,070 cfs, recorded in 1930. Not since the 1,810 cfs (mean flow for the entire day) recorded on April 14, 2000, has the Yampa seen anything similar to April 2016.

The mean flow April 14 in many seasons is in the range of 300 to 500 cfs, according to USGS records.

The city of Steamboat Springs suggests that people who live in a frequently flooded area keep sandbags, plywood and plastic sheeting on hand. The city's street department will deliver sand and sandbags to residential properties on a case-by-case basis. For more information on this service, call 870-879-1807.

Public Works also urges people in flood-prone areas to remove outdoor furniture, firewood and landscape debris from the vicinity of waterways to reduce blockages of culverts and drainage pathways.

It also recommends residents review the Routt County Office of Emergency Management's High Water Preparedness guide.

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