Yampa River is on the rise in Steamboat, peak flows still in future

Tom Ross

— After three days in a row with high temperatures in the 60s, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs climbed past the median flow for the date Friday, settling in at 1,150 cubic feet per second as of mid-morning. That’s 207 cfs above the median.

And the river is expected to rise significantly higher by the middle of the coming work week, but it’s unlikely to peak for the season, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Hydrologist Ashley Nielson at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center confirmed her agency is projecting that the Yampa will continue to climb over the weekend, and if the temperature forecast holds up, it is expected to rise close to 1,600 cfs after midnight Tuesday, before dropping to almost half that level by May 10.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the peak (of runoff) in Steamboat,” she said. “Weather models show cooler temperatures (May 7 through 10),” and that change in the weather is the reason her agency is tentatively forecasting the river to fall.

Nielson emphasized that long-range temperature forecasting is particularly variable in spring, and the river forecast could change if the colder weather doesn’t arrive as expected.

Nielson thinks the snowpack that feeds the upper Yampa will still have more to give in the second week of the month.

“I think the river will come up again, but it may not go a lot higher,” she said.

There’s still snow in the high country surrounding Steamboat, but the month of April didn’t do much to add to the snowpack despite a wet third week of the month that stuck in the minds of residents who didn’t flee the valley during the official spring break for public schools.

Weather observer Art Judson recorded 1.59 inches of precipitation at his station on an elevated site between downtown and the mountain. That compares to the average for the month of 2.41 inches reported by the National Weather Service. The most significant event of the month was a slow-moving storm that delivered .24 inches of rain on the valley floor overnight April 26.

Judson tracked 13 days in April with measurable precipitation, though several were measured in 100ths of an inch. He tallied seven snow events last month, the most significant being the 2.6 inches that fell April 19. It was followed by 1.4 inches that fell the next day.

Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth forecasted Friday that Steamboat would continue to see a chance of afternoon showers this weekend thanks to low pressure to the north, but it’s a storm expected to cross Baja early next week that could send stronger storm energy into Northwest Colorado even though it may track south and ultimately favor the Front Range.

Beyond that, a much stronger storm is expected to reach landfall in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, which could lead to unsettled weather here all week followed by a wet weekend May 9 and 10.

Drought conditions return

Though Northwest Colorado went into the winter with above average water stored in reservoirs and strong soil moisture after unusually wet months of July through September, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the region in moderate to severe drought.

Most of Colorado east of the Divide has avoided drought except for the southeast corner of the state.

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

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