Snowpack translating into big runoff
DENVER ” This winter’s large snowpack could turn into some of the highest stream and river levels in a decade.
Just a couple months ago, the snowpack ranged from 109 percent of the 30-year-average in the South Platte Basin to 169 percent in the Rio Grande Basin. The statewide total was 135 percent of average.
The melting snow has spring runoff forecasts calling for bulging rivers and big rapids.
“The peaks of this season could end up being higher than we’ve seen in a number of years, possibly in the last decade,” said Mike Gillespie, snow-survey supervisor with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood.
Gillespie said runoff has been increasing the last few days.
Stream-flow levels are above the median across the state and several flood watches, warnings and advisories have been issued for the Western Slope. A flood watch was in effect Saturday for the Arkansas River at Canon City.
Other rivers at high levels were the Elk and Yampa in Routt County.
The runoff that began in early May was temporarily halted by a cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend but is building again with the return of high temperatures.
“With the warm weather, we’re already seeing areas that are getting a lot of water,” said Bob Jarrett, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
High runoff levels alone likely won’t cause floods, Jarrett said. Quick, strong thunderstorms on top of high runoff are the biggest flood dangers, he said.
The highest stream flows will likely be on the Western Slope, where the snowpack was the largest.
The Elk and Yampa rivers in Routt County are expected to peak at or slightly above their banks.
“All we can do is watch. We’ve told people to be vigilant,” said Chuck Vale, Routt County emergency management director.
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