Cold moisture continues to buoy snowpack in mountains near Steamboat |

Cold moisture continues to buoy snowpack in mountains near Steamboat

Tom Ross

— The Park Range running along the Continental Divide just east of Steamboat Springs was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the wet April snow pattern that has boosted — as of May 1 — the snowpack in the Yampa River basin to 94 percent of median for the date.

The neighboring North Platte River basin, which also drains the Park Range, stands at 102 percent of median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Conservation Service reported Monday that the unseasonable amount of snow that accumulated in the Colorado Rockies in April boosted statewide snowpack from 74 percent of median to 83 percent of median.

"Those wet storms really improved our water supplies, especially along the Front Range and Upper Colorado River basin," state conservationist Phyllis Ann Phillips said in a news release.

And more precipitation is on the way. Weather observer Art Judson reported Tuesday morning that 0.26 inches of rain had fallen in Steamboat in the preceding 24 hours. That bought the May total to 0.92 inches compared with the average of 2.24 inches for the month. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction was predicting a chance of showers for Steamboat and Craig through Friday. Although overnight lows in the mountains are expected to drop below freezing, little snow accumulation is anticipated.

April typically is a time when snowpack, the moisture content in the snow, is in decline, according to the Conservation Service. Typically, snowpack peaks about April 10 and spring runoff follows soon after, but this year, peak snowpack was not reached until April 24.

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A scarcity of April moisture in the southern mountains dragged down the statewide total. As of May 1, the Rio Grande basin snowpack stood at 41 percent of median, and southwestern basins including Dolores and San Juan stood at 43 percent.

The fact that the Yampa River continues to flow well below the median for the date indicates it might peak later than usual this year. The Yampa was flowing at 2,760 cubic feet per second just below Craig on Tuesday morning compared with a median flow for the date of 3,180 cfs. At the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat, the river was flowing at 879 cfs compared with the median of 1,260.

The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center expects the river in Steamboat to rise above 1,000 cfs Wednesday and remain in a stable daily cycle until about Monday, when it could begin to reach daily peaks of 1,300 to 1,400 cfs.

The Yampa below Craig is expected to rise more significantly toward 4,000 cfs this week, touching that threshold Friday and remaining at that level or slightly higher through May 17, according to the Forecast Center.

The Forecast Center reports that the Yampa in Steamboat typically peaks at about 3,070 cfs May 19.

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Historic spring runoff

■ Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

Highest peak runoff: 6,820 cubic feet per second June 14, 1921

Lowest peak runoff: 1,080 cfs May, 15, 1970

Earliest peak runoff: 5,790 cfs April 26, 1974

Latest peak runoff: 5,260 cfs June 25, 1983

■ Yampa River at Maybell

Highest peak runoff: 25,100 cfs May 17, 1984

Lowest peak runoff: 3,620 cfs June 5, 1977

Earliest peak runoff: 6,900 cfs March 16, 1966

Latest peak runoff: 9,730 cfs June 19, 1949

Data unavailable for the Yampa River where it flows south of Craig.

Source: Colorado River Basin Forecast Center