Warming spell next week could cause Yampa River flows in Steamboat to spike
Steamboat Springs — The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City is signaling that a warming trend next week could kick off low elevation runoff, causing the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs and downstream in Moffat County to begin to rise steeply.
The center is projecting that the Yampa will flow well above its historic norm at more than 350 cubic feet per second Thursday through Sunday. But the river’s flow could begin to stair-step more steeply to more than 700 cfs late next week. And if that comes to pass, it will because of a significant warming trend.
The Yampa at Maybell, west of Craig, also is expected to rise but with bigger peaks and valleys than further upstream in Steamboat. At Maybell, the river was flowing at more than 1,000 cfs Tuesday and could spike to nearly 1,700 cfs by Monday.
“Both the North American and European forecast models are predicting unsettled weather this week followed by a warming period the middle part of next week,” Colorado Basin River Forecast Center hydrologist Ashley Nielson said Tuesday. “But there’s a lot of uncertainty right now about the temperatures, and there are some differences between the models. So keep checking the weather forecast.”
The River Forecast Center, like the National Weather Service, is part of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It focuses on tributaries of the Colorado River from New Mexico to Wyoming, predicting their volumes, rises and falls.
High temperatures in the forecast for next week have not been released by the National Weather Service, but If the warming spell materializes and the river rises to more than 750 cfs, it will represent snowmelt at low and middle elevations here, Nielson said. What it won’t signal is the onset of full-blown spring runoff.
The river was flowing at 309 cfs at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, almost 100 cfs more than the median for April 1 of 212 cfs. At the same time, the weather could not have been more fickle, alternating between thick snow showers and patches of blue sky.
Steamboat meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, of http://www.snowalarm.com, predicted Monday afternoon that the unstable weather would yield measurable snow at Steamboat Ski Area.
“I would expect 1-4 inches to be reported by Wednesday morning,” he wrote. “This pattern persists for Wednesday, though showers will increase and snow levels fall a bit as the main storm moves eastward long the Utah-Arizona border.
“We will get some cooling on the back side of the storm by late Wednesday as it finally moves east of us, and I would expect around 3-6 inches by Thursday morning. Snows will likely taper off by the afternoon.”
In April 2013, the river jumped to 393 cfs April 7, then settled back to 214 cfs by April 12 and did not exceed 300 cfs again until April 28. By April 30, 2013, the river in town had jumped to 922 cfs. Runoff began in earnest May 10 and peaked at 2,830 cfs May 27.
In 2012, the Yampa peaked at 1,570 cfs at the Fifth Street Bridge on April 27. In the memorable runoff year of 2011, the river didn’t peak until June 7, when it reached 5,200 cfs.