Snowpack/runoff news: Colorado is melting-out pretty much everywhere, Yampa River on the rise

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

After three days in a row with high temperatures in the 60s, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs climbed past the median flow for the date Friday, settling in at 1,150 cubic feet per second as of mid-morning. That’s 207 cfs above the median.

And the river is expected to rise significantly higher by the middle of the coming work week, but it’s unlikely to peak for the season, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Hydrologist Ashley Nielson at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center confirmed her agency is projecting that the Yampa will continue to climb over the weekend, and if the temperature forecast holds up, it is expected to rise close to 1,600 cfs after midnight Tuesday, before dropping to almost half that level by May 10…

Judson tracked 13 days in April with measurable precipitation, though several were measured in 100ths of an inch. He tallied seven snow events last month, the most significant being the 2.6 inches that fell April 19. It was followed by 1.4 inches that fell the next day.

Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth forecasted Friday that Steamboat would continue to see a chance of afternoon showers this weekend thanks to low pressure to the north, but it’s a storm expected to cross Baja early next week that could send stronger storm energy into Northwest Colorado even though it may track south and ultimately favor the Front Range.

Beyond that, a much stronger storm is expected to reach landfall in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, which could lead to unsettled weather here all week followed by a wet weekend May 9 and 10.

Drought conditions return

Though Northwest Colorado went into the winter with above average water stored in reservoirs and strong soil moisture after unusually wet months of July through September, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the region in moderate to severe drought.

Most of Colorado east of the Divide has avoided drought except for the southeast corner of the state.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jason Pohl):

Fort Collins saw less than half of its usual April snowfall this year. But that’s okay since Mother Nature split the difference when it came to rain.

Snowfall was down in the Choice City — 2.6 inches compared to the usual amount of 6.2 inches — but repeated rounds of warmer April showers brought the total amount of water that fell to 3.3 inches, data from the Colorado Climate Center show. That’s 161 percent of normal and ranks as the 18th wettest in the 127 years of record keeping.

High temperatures also continued an upward trend. April’s average high was 63.3 degrees, about 1.1 degrees above normal. Lows climbed slightly in a month that saw the mercury dip to 25 degrees and climb to 80 degrees.

Since the snowy season began, about 41 inches fell in Fort Collins. That’s 14 inches below normal.

But snow-lovers last month didn’t have to go far to get their fix.

Northern Colorado’s high country, still blanketed in white, saw major gains in April that reversed what was shaping up to be a dire water year akin to 2012.

Snowpack in the South Platte River Basin skyrocketed in mid-April from about 81 percent to 93 percent of normal in just a few days, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service measurements. That shot of moisture dumped four feet of heavy and wet snow in some areas northwest of Fort Collins, putting the year on par with 2013. That year was the antithesis of a parched and wildfire-prone 2012.

As of Saturday, South Platte River Basin snowpack was at 91 percent of normal and was beginning its melt-off. Continued dry conditions in in Southern Colorado continued to hold statewide snowpack levels down, hovering about 57 percent of normal.

Poudre River flows at the mouth of the canyon remain high ahead of rafting season. Values on Saturday showed a continued upward climb to about 1200 cubic feet per second, about three time times that historic average. Those figures will be on the rise in the coming days and weeks.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

The United States Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL snowpack report shows the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins at 44 percent of their median snowpack levels, raising enough concern with the Mountain Village Town Council that it decided Thursday to enact water conservation regulations for the summer, effective May 1.

The water conservation program differs from similar conservation programs in 2012 and 2013 in that it allows for longer irrigation hours during the month of May, when freezing temperatures are still possible. Full details of the conservation program, which can be found at http://townofmountainvillage.com/waterconservation, include designated days and times when residents of Mountain Village, Ski Ranches, Elk Run and Skyfield can irrigate.

The town enlisted local water consultant Eric Bikis of Bikis Water Consultants to review the current status of local draught conditions and recommend a course of action for the town. In his letter to town staff, Bikis recommended several measures to reduce the expected strain on town water supplies.

“If dry conditions prevail throughout the summer,” Bikis wrote, “it likely will provide hardship to many water users and a water rights call will be placed on the San Miguel River. There is good cause to develop drought planning measures now and to inform your constituency as soon as possible so that their awareness is elevated.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Willoughby):

Snowpack across Colorado currently measures at about 59 percent, but the story in the western portion of the state holds considerably less promise. According to U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service data, the upper Rio Grande basin is pulling down the statewide average with a mere 28 percent of its average annual snowpack as of Friday. Where snowpack traditionally peaks in the Rio Grande basin April 10, it hit its high mark March 11 this year, that at just 75 percent of the normal peak. Likewise, the adjacent San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basin in the state’s southwest corner is limping along at just 39 percent of its normal snowpack for the date, reaching its peak March 14…

Speculation is rampant that the Gunnison River basin, at 55 percent of average, has already seen its peak native flow for the year. Any additional bump in flows will probably occur as a result of releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir and Crystal Dam upstream.

The upside of Colorado’s water equation can be found on the east side of the Continental Divide, where the South Platte River basin leads the state with 93 percent of its average snowpack. The easterly draining Arkansas River is at 77 percent of average, its snowpack peaking just about two weeks ahead of schedule. Dams lining both river basins are sure to manipulate flow regimens throughout the summer, including the Arkansas’ decades-old Voluntary Flow Management Plan that traditionally keeps upper portions of the river rolling at raft-friendly levels of about 700 cubic feet per second from July 1-Aug. 15. As mountain snow begins to melt, a higher spike in flow remains possible.

While the South Platte lacks such a cooperative arrangement for recreational use, reservoirs throughout the basin are brimming at the moment, and river flows are likely to increase with downstream demand.

Back to the west, the Colorado River and tributaries such as the Eagle began the steady march up the hydrograph this week as a snowpack currently measuring just 66 percent of normal has begun to wane in earnest.

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