Only in the Rocky Mountain states are snowdrifts worthy of semi-formal names.
I had a chance for a quick chat with U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger John Anarella this week, and he told me that, uncharacteristically for May 18, the "Yamcolo Drift" is passable and it's possible to drive to Bear Lake, high in the Flat Tops Wilderness.
The Yamcolo snowdrift usually persists until Memorial Day on the road that crosses the dam at Yamcolo Reservoir, Anarella told me.
Snow and mud still block the last stretch of the road, which terminates at Stillwater Reservoir and the trail to Hooper and Keener lakes.
If you're always a little overly eager to visit the high country every spring, you can probably tick off a list of spots where large snowdrifts often linger into June. The drifts that matter most are on Forest Service roads that lead to your favorite trailheads.
There's a drift on Rabbit Ears Pass that keeps the road impassable long after the rest of its rutted length is completely dry. We've been known to park the pickup and carry our mountain bikes over the snow so we can get to the other side.
I have to say, it never occurred to me to give the snowdrift a name. Maybe from now on we'll refer to it as "The Terminator."
More than a few of you have been watching the snow melt unusually quickly this month and are asking if it was this dry and mild during the historic drought of 2002. That was the summer when wildfires raged both in the Flat Tops and the Park Range.
The summer of 2002 also was the season the Division of Wildlife closed the town stretch of the Yampa River to fishing because the trout were stressed by low water and low oxygen content.
Are we going to see a repeat of the drought of 2002? I've lived here long enough to know better than to try to predict the weather.
However, there are some statistical comparisons that can be drawn between this spring and the season we experienced five years ago. There is reason for concern.
Year-to-date precipitation in Steamboat Springs stands at 5.26 inches compared to the average year-to-date number of 10.34 inches. How much precipitation had we recorded in Steamboat by this date in 2002? The answer is 6.93 inches.
Just a casual glance at daily high temperatures this month suggests May 2007 has been warmer than May 2002. Month-to-date precipitation, standing at 0.46 inches, is slightly ahead of the number for May 18, 2002, when we'd seen 0.41 inches. Typical precipitation for this date in May is 1.22 inches, and in a typical month of May, there would have been 2.4 inches of snow.
I don't have to tell you that we haven't seen much in the way of measurable snowfall this month.
The Yampa River appears to be peaking early this year due to unseasonably warm temperatures. However, it already has surpassed peak flows from 2002.
Records kept by the U.S. Geological Service reflect that the Yampa peaked at 1,290 cubic feet per second on May 24, 2002. It was the most anemic peak since 1977, when the Yampa topped out at a wimpy 1,080 cfs on May 15 - an all-time low.
The Yampa was running at a comfortable daily high of about 2,400 cfs this week, which is higher than usual for the date.
The all-time record peak flow was observed on June 14, 1918, when the river raged through town at 6,820 cfs. In more modern times, the river hit 5,790 cfs on April 26, 1974, and 5,260 on June 25, 1983.
The prevailing folk wisdom in Steamboat is that the river has peaked when you can see a patch of bare ground on Storm Peak in the shape of a big "X."
I've always been dubious about that standard of measurement. The snow lingers longer on Storm Peak because the Steamboat Ski Area lays down a thick blanket of manmade snow on the face. I guess manmade snow doesn't rule out a correlation, but it just doesn't feel legit to me.
Kayakers taking part in the Yampa River Festival in 2002, made do with a flow of 588 cfs.
We have almost exactly three weeks remaining until this year's river festival. Would anyone like to start an office pool to guess what level the river will be flowing on June 9?