Rising water levels expected in northern, central Colorado
June 6, 2011
DENVER – Monday was the hottest day of the year in the state, prompting flood advisories and warnings for parts of northern and western Colorado, officials said.The National Weather Service said the Arkansas River near Leadville will be around the minor flood stage for several days as the record snowpack melts.The Cache La Poudre and Big Thompson Rivers will be the main sources of flooding in northern Colorado, said Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist in Denver. But they don’t present an immediate threat.”There will be some nuisance flooding, water coming up near banks, near flat land in northern sections of Greeley, along the Poudre,” Fredin said.Authorities also said the Eagle River west of the Continental Divide is forecast to cause some nuisance flooding onto its flood plain.Stacey Stegman, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said one lane of westbound Interstate 70 has been closed due to flooding on the Colorado River near Fruita. Officials also expect to close the eastbound lane.Residents at the Saddle Mountain Ranch west of Steamboat Springs vacated the property Friday after the Elk River flooded into the main building and several adjoining ones. Water rose to the ranch’s foundation and completely submerged the surrounding landscape.Average state snowpack has been measured at 248 percent of average, with some areas along the continental divide measuring as much as 359 percent of average.The snow came in much later than usual, said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist in Grand Junction, and none of it melted off in May.”Typically, the first of April is what we consider mature snowpack. If we get snow beyond April, it’s typically matched by melting,” Ramey said.The weekend’s high temperatures had officials issuing flood warnings along in Moffat and Routt counties, but Fredin said the floodplains might be able to avoid flash floods because of cooler weather forecast for the rest of the week.A cool front coming will lower temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday, which should help modify river levels.”We don’t have heavy showers or thunderstorms and we’ll get cooling Wednesday through the weekend and that kind of slows flooding down,” Fredin said.Ramey said the season’s late spring warm-up has been a blessing as the flood warnings out for Moffat, Routt, Mesa and Lake counties have amounted to little more than crested banks and soggy pasturelands.”Most of our snow is gone, and there are no flooding areas open at the moment,” said Fernando Mendoza, Lake County undersheriff.Officials at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said their rivers and creeks have been rising with the snowmelt and likely will reach peak levels this week.Low lying areas in north central Colorado – including Larimer and Weld counties – are also expected to see rising water.Duke Bradford, a board member on the Colorado River Outfitter’s Association, said word of the high water levels has gotten out and the rafting business has been looking up.”Travel was up 11 percent on the Memorial Day weekend,” Bradford said.But officials say the Front Range and much of eastern Colorado is still aching for moisture and the fire potential is predicted to be extreme.Steve Segin, a spokesman at the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, said the fire danger for the southern and eastern Colorado plains will be very high as the hot weather dries out fire fuels. East of the divide, dry thunderstorms combined with low humidity and wind intensify the potential for lightning-caused wildfires.