Kai Franken, 8, son of Rick and Cyd Franken, of Steamboat Springs, plows through the C-Hole on the Yampa River on Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday morning was the second time in the past three days that the Yampa River reached a seven-year high.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Kai Franken, 8, son of Rick and Cyd Franken, of Steamboat Springs, plows through the C-Hole on the Yampa River on Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday morning was the second time in the past three days that the Yampa River reached a seven-year high.

Yampa, Elk rivers rise even higher

Levels expected to remain elevated this week



Courtesy of Clay Garner

Steamboat Today reader Clay Garner snapped this photo of high water flooding the Holiday Inn parking lot in east Steamboat Springs on Monday.

— The Yampa and Elk rivers have crested by Tuesday, but forecasters expect the water levels to remain high for the rest of the week.

Hydrologist Bryon Lawrence of the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction forecast office, said the Elk River crested at 7.95 feet at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, with a flow of 6,340 cubic feet per second. The river is measured where it crosses Routt County Road 42. The flood stage for the Elk River is 7.5 feet, and water is spilling over the banks onto ranchland in several areas.

A flood advisory for the Elk River has been extended until Thursday.

The Yampa River, measured at the Fifth Street Bridge, crested at about midnight and surpassed the high water mark measured Sunday, Lawrence said, with an observed peak of 6.72 feet and a flow of 4,317 cfs. The bankfull stage on the Yampa is 6.5 feet, and flood stage is 7.5 feet.

Tuesday’s reading is the second time in the past three days the Yampa River has reached a seven-year high.

Lawrence expects both rivers to now gradually go down.

The high water has not caused any known damage to property, Lawrence said, though the Yampa has flooded several sections of the Yampa River Core Trail in downtown Steamboat.

Help tell the story

Send us your pictures and videos of high water in Routt County by emailing to share@steamboatpi...

People should be cautious when near the river because the cold, fast-flowing water is dangerous and can erode the banks, he said.

“The river is dangerous in terms of people going in or trying to go tubing, or putting on their wings and trying to float down it,” he said. “Just a couple of days ago a lot of this water was snow. We always encourage people to use caution when fishing on the banks of the river.”

Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said he again toured the area hit by the high water Tuesday.

“The Elk definitely came up a bunch, but no homes got wet or anything like that,” he said.

Struble has received reports of some small areas of road damage from the high water, but no major problems.

Lawrence said the rivers will remain high for the next several days, but cooler weather, especially this weekend, will slow the runoff. Temperatures are expected to range from lows in the 40s to highs in the 60s this weekend.


housepoor 6 years, 11 months ago

i wonder what effect the beetle kill is having on the rapid runoff and would guess it's only going to get worse


greenwash 6 years, 11 months ago

How crazy that kids only 8 years old. Pretty freaken amazing.


Steve Lewis 6 years, 11 months ago

Due to the conditions we found in the river, our crew of experienced kayakers opted to get off the Upper Elk on Sunday, halfway through our planned run. It was roughly our 6th run this year, but at this level we decided it was too hazardous.

Simply put, strong current is flowing not only thru the typical riverside willows, but also thru the evergreens. Opportunities to safely get off the river are few. The danger for a strong swimmer would be extreme.

The strong current in the evergreens will likely drop some of those trees into the river. A tree across a river is can easily trap and drown a swimmer or a boater. The combined risks of new treefall and limited exit points are why we got off.

The Upper Elk, above Clark, is likely setting bigger records as this is a high country surge of snowmelt. A boater living near Hinman said its the highest he has seen it there. The gauge referenced in this story is very close to HWY 40, which is pretty far downstream. Good point on the beetle kill effect on the snowmelt. That makes sense.


Steve Lewis 6 years, 11 months ago

Downtown Yampa boaters should know that the train trestle by the Iron Horse Inn is only marginally passable with 30 inches or less clearance at the far (river) right side The river left side might have 18" clearance. The 5th St bridge is the same story, though not quite as bad.


Brent Boyer 6 years, 11 months ago

Good points, housepoor and Steve. The safety message is a particularly important one to share with our neighbors. We'll look into the effect of the beetle kill.



Scott Wedel 6 years, 11 months ago

Effect of beetle kill on rate of snow melt is not going to be simple. The actual difference in amount of shade at ground level would vary widely and then it'd depend on what is shaded and what got sun. For it to melt now would require that it didn't melt earlier and so on.

The condition of the forests are not that much different than last year or the year before and yet this year's melt is much different. So it may have played a role, but the weather has been far more important. We had cool wet weather that caused basically no melting for early May and then not only did it get hot, we have also been having rain overnight to cause 24 hour melting.

If we had weather pattern like this either of the past two years then we probably would have had more severe flooding.


Kevin Nerney 6 years, 11 months ago

What's the difference between peaked and crested? I thought the paper said it peaked on Sunday, now it crested even higher? I don't know anything I'm just an east coaster that knows high tide and low tide, and tides change every six hours


frankly 6 years, 11 months ago

The melt may also be an effect of El Nino, too, since the spring weather was not typical, as well as the beatle kill.

I hope anyone reading this will be reminded that while it is fun for kids to frolic about the rocks by the library side, it's also pretty darn dangerous. One slip and they can fall in that cold, cold water and rush away with the very strong current. Our daughter is always sporting a PFD when we are down there watching kayakers even though she knows to stay away from the water's edge ~ accidents happen! I see a lot of small kids (like under 4) charging about without wearing a PFD. Please reconsider that decision during the spring runoff.

That being said, that 8 year old is a very good boater.


sledneck 6 years, 11 months ago

Kevin, As the paper meant it I think there is no difference. They probably just goofed on the prediction. One way to perhaps distinguish the two terms could be to mean the 24 hour crest of water from the heat of the day versus the peak, meaning "high water day" for the year. Near its confluence with the Yampa the Elk, for example, crests in the early morning hours from the runnoff generated upstream the afternoon before. On the really big water days it is sometimes as late as 5-6am. If you really want to see high water check it out early morning.

High water in Northwest Colorado is from the middle of May till the middle of June... period. Within this time frame the runnoff will peak or crest (high water day) according to how fast the snow comes off on any given day. Temprature drives it all. Sometimes a rain can exacerbate the flooding but, more times than not, the cloudy weather associated with rain days kind of evens out by decreasing the days melt.

One reason the paper and others may have been anxious to call it done was the date. This seasons high water day was late and a lot of people were thinking it was over. Most of the past few years have seen "high water day" in mid- late May. However a really big year like this one or '97 can come as late as early June.

Never accept that high water day has come and gone till 3 things are true: 1. The bare spots on Mt Werner need to get large and come together. 2. The snotel sites in North Routt called "Lost Dog" and "Zirkel" plus the "Rabbit Ears" site on RE Pass need to be close to dry or totally dry. 3. Even if both those things are true but the forecast is for really hot or really rainy weather all bets are off.


sledneck 6 years, 11 months ago

P.S. There is ALWAYS enough snow in the high country to cause a major problem, even on a light snow year. The difference in a light snow year and a heavy snow year is that the length of time we are at risk for flood increases with a big snow pack whereas a light snow year sees the danger pass in a few quick weeks.

Concerning beetle-kill there are a lot of unknowns. Some say that it just means the un-shaded snow starts and finishes its melt sooner in the season. I honestly don't know. New trees of significant size actually can "drink-up" more water than old growth trees. Another thing I am really concerned about is the debris (dead trees) clogging bridges, culverts or dam spillways and causing a major disaster.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 11 months ago

Technically there is a difference between peaked and crested. Peak is the maximum flow. Crested can mean a local maximum (ie lower before and after wards), but does not preclude the possibility of other crests during the season.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.