Officials prepare for floods

Heavy rains bring possibility of severe weather

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— Although much of Routt County is dry and fire danger is high, recent storms have officials thinking of the small, though present, possibility of flooding.

On Monday morning, there was an urban and small-stream flood advisory for North Routt County, while southern Routt County was under a severe thunderstorm warning.

"We're kind of in that middle ground of burning versus flooding," Routt County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale said.

Routt County is not known for flooding problems. Vale said he couldn't remember a time that there has been a flash flood. But, he said that residents and tourists alike should beware of heavy rain, which can be accompanied by hail and lightning.

"Whenever you've got thunderstorms around, you've got to be heads up," Vale said. "People need to be aware that severe weather can hit the high country."

Early Monday, a line of thunderstorms moving east from Craig to Clark dumped heavy rain and hail on the area. The largest reported hail was a half-inch in diameter, said Troy Lindquist, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

According to radar estimates, 0.5 to 1 inch of rain fell in the area. Lindquist said those estimates were preliminary and could change once ground measurements were collected.

The heaviest rain of the morning fell in pockets around Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Clark, he said.

"We were concerned that there was enough rainfall to cause some minor flooding," Lindquist said.

Stormy conditions had shifted south of the area by noon, Lindquist said. Although a few showers could continue to move through the area, he said the storms weren't expect to be as intense as the earlier ones.

The Yampa River at Steamboat Springs has benefited from the local bouts of rain, according to a United States Geological Services Web site. Water flow hovered around 70 to 80 cubic feet per second until Monday, when it jumped to about 100 cfs. Despite the increase, the flow is still below the 93-year median of about 130 cfs for the same day.

Storms also have proven to be a boon to river temperatures, which reached 77 degrees on Saturday and dropped to 73 degrees on Sunday.

But severe storms can be damaging to land already marred by fire, said Diann Ritschard, a spokesperson for the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest.

"We are worried about erosion with the rains," Ritschard said. "That's why we're continuing to do our burned-area emergency rehabilitation."

The U.S. Forest Service's rehabilitation program includes building erosion-control structures, such as stacked hay bales in vulnerable spots. In areas of high concern, such as the Lost Dog/English Creek area burned in the Hinman fire last year, an aerial mulching program will take place this week. Officials will drop weed-free straw from a helicopter to soften the impact of rain as it falls on the ground, thus reducing the potential for erosion.

Kirk Wolff, a Forest Service hydrologist, said there hasn't been a serious erosion or flooding problem in the past, but the potential exists.

"Our real concern is the short-duration, high-intensity thunderstorm," Wolff said. "We don't have the vegetation that has responded back from the (Hinman) fire."

Although nature is often unpredictable, the chance of flooding doesn't seem to be high.

Wolff said that last spring, above normal temperatures resulted in a quick snowmelt, but although streams were running at bank level there weren't flooding problems.

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