Steamboat Springs skier Kerry Lofy hikes up a slope April 28 on Buffalo Pass. The snowpack on the pass is the equivalent of 6 feet of water.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs skier Kerry Lofy hikes up a slope April 28 on Buffalo Pass. The snowpack on the pass is the equivalent of 6 feet of water.

Routt County's Buffalo Pass snowpack sets all-time state record

Water content on on Continental Divide near Steamboat Springs is the most ever recorded in state

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— The 6 feet of water standing in the form of snow on the Continental Divide near Steamboat Springs is unprecedented in the record books.

State conservationist Allen Green, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, confirmed that the Tower measuring site at 10,500 feet on the summit of Buffalo Pass has set an all-time record, not just for that location but for Colorado.

Tower “reached a total (snow) accumulation for this season over 200 inches deep, with 72.6 inches of water content,” Green said. “This exceeds the previous record reading of 71.1 inches of water equivalent measured in 1978” on Buffalo Pass.

The 2011 figure at Tower sets an all-time record for any snow-measuring site in Colorado, Green said, and snowpack measurements are strong across the northern tier of Colorado.

April might be close to another record for precipitation in Steamboat Springs. Unofficial collaborative weather observer Art Judson recorded 6.37 inches of precipitation, including melted snow, at his weather station between downtown and the mountain. That is the most moisture since April 1909. A forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said the official April totals have yet to be turned in.

However, Judson had another noteworthy measurement to report: Of 30 days in April, 27 days saw at least a trace of snow, adding up to 42.9 inches for the month.

The biggest one-day snow total of 7 inches was measured at 6:59 a.m. April 30. Judson also recorded a four-day period April 19 through 22 when 10.2 inches fell in town.

Locally, a record amount of water on the Continental Divide raises concerns about flooding, assures whitewater paddlers a memorable season and means tubers and fly-fishermen will have to wait until July for optimum conditions.

However, Green’s colleague Snow Survey supervisor Mike Gillespie said the snowpack across the American West represents a banner year for irrigators, municipal water managers and reservoir managers.

“It’s great news for water supplies, not just in northern Colorado, but really the entire western U.S. We’re sitting on above-average snowpacks,” Gillespie said. “It’s very unusual to see such widespread (high measurements) from the Pacific Northwest reaching down to Colorado. It’s a remarkable year.”

Gillespie said his agency and the National Weather Service have collaborated on a streamflow report for the West that suggests flows should remain high well into July.

In Colorado, snowpack is strong on both sides of the Continental Divide. The snow measurement site on Cameron Pass west of Fort Collins crushed the previous record this month. Cameron Pass has 48 inches of water content. With continuous measurements taken since 1936, it is one of the oldest snow course sites in the state. The previous record there was the 42.5 inches of water, measured in 1971.

“Even many of the old-timers have never seen some of the depths measured across northern Colorado this month,” Green said.

The La Niña weather patterns this winter did not favor southern Colorado, where snowpack is below average. The lowest in the state is the Rio Grande Basin at 72 percent of average.

Fire chief assesses risk

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Ron Lindroth and Street Superintendent Doug Marsh discussed the city’s flood risk Tuesday night, citing the potential for “a perfect storm” if warm weather melts snowpack quickly and accelerates flows in area creeks and streams.

“For our community, my biggest concern is not necessarily the Yampa River, but the streams that flow through town,” Lindroth told the Steamboat Springs City Council.

Lindroth said the city’s utilities department is closely monitoring culverts, streams and creeks for blockages, which could build up significant water that could cause flash flooding if released suddenly.

“There’s a potential for flooding risk that is greater than what we’ve had in recent history,” Lindroth said Wednesday.

Along the Yampa River, Lindroth said, facilities including Routt County Communications, Ferrellgas, Yampa Valley Electric Association, the downtown fire station and the city’s wastewater treatment plant all are within a potential floodplain.

Lindroth said he also is preparing for the possibility of people getting swept up in a flash flood.

“The Fire Department is doing swift-water rescue training as we speak,” he said.

Marsh said property owners in need of sandbags can call the city’s street office at 970-879-1807 during business hours. After 4 p.m., he said, the city dispatch line at 970-879-1144 will take calls and notify city staff of requests.

“We have 13,000 sandbags, and the largest amount of sandbags we’ve ever used was 7,000,” Marsh said. “So far this year, we’ve used 900.”

He said another 5,000 or so sandbags are available in Gypsum, should the need arise.

Sandbags are free for residents, except those who have had flood problems in the past and failed to mitigate them. Those residents will be charged, Steamboat Springs Police Chief JD Hays wrote in an April 20 email.

Commercial users are charged after 100 bags. The cost of 50 cents per bag includes sand. The city will deliver the bags and sand, but the user must fill and place the bags.

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