State expert predicts fast and early snowmelt |

State expert predicts fast and early snowmelt

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SUMMIT COUNTY ” While the experts aren’t telling Summit County residents to build arks just yet, a medium-range weather outlook provided by state flood officials suggests that a wave of high water could roll down High Country streams and rivers as soon as mid-May ” well ahead of the usual peak runoff.

That forecast was highlighted by Kevin Houck, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s floodplain manager, who said a predicted wave of warm temperatures, with highs reaching 80 degrees, could cause a sudden surge of runoff during the first few weeks of May.

“Of course, this just a forecast, and it could change. It probably will change,” Houck said Thursday evening during a flood awareness program in Frisco, scheduled as part of the Blue River Watershed Group’s regular speaker series on water issues.

Speaking to a packed house, Houck went over some basic flood terminology, explaining, for example, that a 100-year flood doesn’t mean that a flood happens once every 100 years.

For an area in a 100-year flood plain, the term means that there’s a 1 percent chance of a flood in any given year, he said. And the flood risk to a particular property isn’t as black and white as it’s often presented, Houck said.

“It’s a continuum of risk, from low to high, depending where you are,” Houck said. That holds especially true for properties that might be located just outside a designated floodplain, he added.

“We’re below the threshold for extreme concern. There’s no reason to be alarmed,” Houck said, discussing snowpack levels. Last year, for example, parts of the San Juans had a snowpack that was between 170 and 200 percent of average, yet the river basins in those areas didn’t flood because there was no sudden melt down, Houck said.

Temperatures are critical. With this year’s snowpack, a sustained five- to seven-day warm spell is all that’s needed to cause a high-water event in the Blue River basin, Houck said. Based on the weather outlook, the state’s flood experts are planning on the peak runoff to come faster and earlier than usual this year, during the first part of May.

If and when high water does start to appear in Summit County, state and local emergency responders said they are well prepared. Clearly, the memory of last year’s inadequate government response to Hurricane Katrina was an undertone, as several speakers took great pains to assure the audience of the current state of readiness in Summit County.

Summit County emergency manager Jonathan Comyn explained that local authorities have been discussing flood preparations for months and highlighted the fact that local rescue crews have been getting some swift-water rescue training recently. Comyn said there has been a high level of collaboration among various agencies and that all the pieces are in place for a successful response to potential flood emergencies.

More information on Summit County flood preparedness is online at

State information, including flood forecasts and warnings, are available at

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