The Elk River laps earlier this week at its banks along Marabou Ranch beneath a sign warning of the high water. Area rivers and creeks are again expected to rise this weekend.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The Elk River laps earlier this week at its banks along Marabou Ranch beneath a sign warning of the high water. Area rivers and creeks are again expected to rise this weekend.

Steamboat rivers on the rise again

Elk expected to return to flood level as runoff focus shifts to Fish, Soda creeks

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Trail closures

Sections of the Yampa River Core Trail are closed because of high water, according to the city of Steamboat Springs:

• Dougherty Road to Weiss Drive

• U.S. Highway 40 underpass at Walton Creek

• From Stone Lane and Chinook Drive to U.S. 40 underpass

• Railroad underpass upstream of Fetcher Pond

• Fetcher Pond to Trafalgar Drive

• Snake Island to the Ninth Street Bridge

• 13th Street underpass

photo

Nicole Miller/Staff

Steamboat Springs 100-year floodplain

— A hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction suggested Thursday that Steamboat Springs residents keep an eye on Soda Creek and Fish Creek where they flow through the city.

“Some of the creeks that come into the Yampa may rise and go above bank-full as temperatures rise this weekend and we get melting,” Service Hydrologist Aldus Strautins said. “That’s what we are looking at and going, ‘Oh, God, here we go.’ There may be some issues up there.”

The U.S. Geological Service snow surveys suggest the flood potential is now represented by snowpack above 9,500 feet, and Strautins agreed.

Soda Creek, Fish Creek and possibly Walton Creek (a little lower in elevation) drain areas that continue to carry an unusual amount of snowpack for the last weekend in June, he said. Friday’s high temperature is expected to reach 81 degrees, and Saturday’s forecast is for 79 degrees.

Fish Creek, where it courses through Rollingstone Ranch Golf Club, was carrying 705 cubic feet per second Thursday after peaking more than 1,000 cfs overnight. That compares with a median flow for the date of 290 cfs.

The Tower snow measuring site at 10,500 feet on the Continental Divide still shows 108 inches of snow containing 52 inches of water. It’s one of the best indicators of how much water remains on the Continental Divide just north and east of Steamboat.

Elsewhere, snow measuring sites in North Routt County, which feed the main stem of the Elk River, are on the wane.

The Lost Dog Snotel site, for example, on the edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area at 9,320 feet elevation, is virtually spent. The Elk River Snotel site in North Routt shows the snow there is gone, too.

The snow measuring site on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass has dropped from 22 inches of snow on June 16 to 8 inches on Thursday. The water content has dropped to 5 inches. The snowpack on the east side of the pass has been observed to be deeper.

A tale of two rivers

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City is predicting that with the return of unseasonably high temperatures in the upper Yampa Valley this weekend, the Yampa and Elk rivers have the potential to rise steeply, but the Elk has the most potential to rise above flood stage.

They expect the Yampa River at Fifth Street to rise above its banks again this weekend, but stop short of flood stage before steadily receding next week. However, the Forecast Center sees the potential for the Elk near its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat to go above flood level this weekend and possibly stay there into next week.

The Elk was flowing at 5,000 cubic feet per second Thursday, well below its peak of 7,000 cfs a couple of weeks ago. However, NOAA hydrologists see the potential for it to return to levels above 7,000 cfs at the peak of its daily cycle from Monday to July 4. However, hydrologists emphasize that forecast is weather-dependent, and their ability to project flows that far out is not as reliable as it is for this weekend. They see the Elk reaching flood stage of 7.5 feet Friday through Sunday.

Strautins issued a river outlook Wednesday afternoon forecasting that river levels here could jump.

“The water level rise will be quite dramatic and may reach levels seen last week or above,” the report reads. “The potential exists for some rivers and streams to reach well above flood stage by midweek.”

The elevated river flows on the town stretch of the Yampa have caused the Routt County Sheriff’s Office to forbid recreational floating in single-chamber inflatable boats — which includes inner tubes — until July.

However, the sustained high flows have created an opportunity for rafting outfitters, and the Steamboat Springs City Council took steps this week to ensure they can capitalize on it. The council voted 6-1 to allow the Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department to authorize outfitters to guide raft trips on the Yampa between Confluence Park and the Stock Bridge Transit Center beyond July 6. The action was taken after getting the OK from Colorado Division of Wildlife officials.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Yampa River hydrograph for June 23, 2011

The Elk was flowing at 5,000 cubic feet per second on Thursday, well below its peak of 7,000 cfs a couple of weeks ago. However, NOAA hydrologists see the potential for it to return to levels above 7,000 cfs at the peak of its daily cycle from June 27 to July 4. However, they emphasize that forecast is weather dependent and their ability to project flows that far out is not as dependable as it is for this weekend. They see the Elk reaching flood stage of 7.5 feet this Friday through Sunday.

Elk River hydrograph for June 23, 2011

The U.S. Geological Service snow surveys suggest the Elk’s potential to flood is now represented by snowpack above 9,500 feet. The Lost Dog Snotel site, for example, on the edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area at 9,320 feet elevation, is virtually spent. The Elk River Snotel site in North Routt shows the snow there is gone, too. However, closer to Steamboat, the Tower snow measuring site at 10,500 feet on the Continental Divide still shows 108 inches of snow containing 52 inches of water.

Some of that runoff is likely destined for Soda Creek, which flows through Steamboat and enters the Yampa below Fifth Street and well above the confluence with the Elk.

The snow measuring site on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass has dropped from 22 inches of snow on June 16 to 8 inches on Thursday. The water content has dropped to 5 inches. The snowpack on the east side of the pass has been observed to be deeper.

Comments

seeuski 3 years, 3 months ago

Is 79 and 80 degree temps now considered unseasonably high on June 25 and 26? Please explain that one. What is seasonable then?

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Nicole Miller 3 years, 3 months ago

seeuski: I asked the same thing, and Tom Ross said it came straight from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

I checked out average temps on the TheWeatherChannel.com, and 75 is the average for Steamboat in June. http://www.weather.com/outlook/health/fitness/wxclimatology/monthly/graph/USCO0370

Nicole Miller News editor 970-871-4246 nmiller@SteamboatToday.com

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seeuski 3 years, 3 months ago

Thanks Nicole, I think using the term "unseasonably warm" is a stretch since we have had such unseasonably cool temps until today. I love these temps though.

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