Spring runoff in Steamboat unlikely to match 2011 for sheer volume
April 21, 2014
Remember June 2011?
Runoff seasons on the Yampa River
2013 Peaked at 2,830 cfs on May 27
2012 Peaked at 1,570 cfs on April 27
2011 Peaked at 5,200 cfs on June 7
Measurements taken at Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat Springs
In the past:
1984 Peaked at 5,670 cfs on May 25
1974 Peaked at 5,790 cfs on April 26
1952 Peaked at 5,740 cfs on June 4
1914 Peaked at 6,300 cfs on June 2
Yampa River Core Trail flood closings as of Monday
U.S. Highway 40 underpass at Walton Creek
Railroad underpass upstream of Fetcher Pond
These sections and others may open and close as flows increase and decrease. The city of Steamboat asks that people not attempt to cross trails with water on them.
Steamboat Springs — Have you packed your flood kit yet?
The Routt County Office of Emergency Management suggests that during seasons of high spring runoff, people who live in the path of the Yampa Valley's rivers and streams pack a go-bag in case they have to suddenly evacuate their homes.
And that's just what Victor Medina, caretaker of Saddle Mountain Ranch, did in the first week of June during the unforgettable runoff event of 2011. The only problem was Medina hung around his home where the Elk River flows into the Yampa River west of Steamboat Springs just a little too long.
"I was laying on my bed (at 5 a.m.) this morning when one of the plastic containers I had packed was floating around the room," Medina told Steamboat Today on June 6, 2011. "The water didn't come up until 8 am. yesterday, so I stayed here and packed my stuff last night. I thought I would have plenty of time to get out in the morning."
As it turned out, the Elk had peaked at 6,860 cubic feet per second at 2:30 a.m. pushing 8 to 10 inches of water through the ranch compound. The Yampa in Steamboat Springs peaked for the season at 5,200 cfs the next day.
This week, the persistent snow in the mountains just outside Steamboat Springs is reminiscent of the impressive snowpack of 2011, when the Yampa River overran Bald Eagle Lake and caused the youth minister at the Steamboat Christian Center and his family to evacuate their parsonage.
Is spring 2014 another 2011 in the making? It's unlikely, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who keeps close tabs on the Yampa River Basin.
Ashley Nielson confirmed that the total volume of water that flowed down the Yampa in 2011 beginning on April 1 and continuing through July 31 was the highest on record. And this year's snowpack doesn't measure up.
"We do see a 10 percent chance the peak flow on the Yampa will go over flood stage, but it's totally dependent on what kind of spring we have and how that snow comes off," Nielson said Monday. "There's a lot less snow than what we had in 2011."
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the snow at the top of Buffalo Pass is currently 134 inches deep, which is down from 149 inches April 14, and the snow water equivalent is 112 percent of median. That compares to a record 180 inches of snow depth that stood at 130 percent of median in 2011. At the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Monday, the snow water equivalent was 150 percent of median compared to 157 percent April 23, 2011.
Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said he thinks it would take a very unusual weather event like warm rain falling on the high-elevation snowpack to result in flooding like that experienced in 2011.
Still, the hydrograph for this week closely mirrors 2011, Nielson agreed, when low elevation runoff peaked on April 23. Nielson's office is forecasting that the Yampa will shoot up Wednesday at about 1,900 cfs, then slip back to the range of 1,000 to 1,200 cfs through the end of the month when a cold front is expected to apply the brakes. It's very typical, she said, for the Yampa to rise steeply in late April as snow melts suddenly from the valley floor and lower slopes.
Struble said he will participate Tuesday in a conference call with emergency managers from around the Western Slope along with weather experts to hear what they have to say. Then, on May 6, he will convene law enforcement, fire and public works officials from around the county.
"We want to make sure we're on the same page and talk about how we're going to respond," Struble said.
The High Water Preparedness Guide put out by Struble’s office provides detailed information about how residents can prepare for spring runoff and flooding. And Struble is a strong advocate for always keeping an emergency to-go bag packed and ready.