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Rivers surge to peak flows

High water closes the bridge connecting the Hunter Creek and Lani White trails. Daniel Bayer photo.
Daniel Bayer © 2003 |

Warm temperatures are consuming the snowpack so fast that flows are peaking higher and earlier then usual and even causing minor flooding on local streams and rivers.

Minor flooding was expected in lowlands along the Crystal River between Redstone and Carbondale last night after midnight, according to Brian Avery, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The Crystal was expected to hit its peak for the season before midafternoon Friday, he said.

The Roaring Fork River is expected to peak at Glenwood Springs sometime between mid-day Friday and Saturday, Avery said.



Hunter Creek, one of the major tributaries of the Roaring Fork, hit its highest flow ever for May 29 on Thursday. High water washed over part of the trail along the creek, and flooding has closed the lower half of the trail.

The crashing water is audible from Centennial Apartments, and its volume makes walking over the still-open bridges a precarious experience, with swift-moving water less than 3 feet below.




The pedestrian trail alongside the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon was also closed in spots due to flooding.

“If we hadn’t had these warm temperatures we wouldn’t have seen these spikes,” said Avery. Temperatures have been between 10 and 15 degrees above normal this week, climbing to the high 80s and low 90s throughout the valley.

The heat wave combined with a late-accumulating snowpack to create the surge of water. The snowpack usually peaks by mid-April. This year it hit its highest level by mid-May.

“The snowpack is coming down all at once,” Avery said.

As a result, the Roaring Fork River is expected to reach a higher-than-average peak. Expectations are for it to hit 6,900 cubic feet per second in Glenwood Springs before mid-day Saturday. The average peak level is 6,150 cfs, according to the Weather Service.

Last year the Roaring Fork River peaked at a paltry 2,170 cfs in Glenwood Springs on June 1. Avery said data shows the peak typically occurs between June 3 and June 26, so this year’s peak is definitely quicker than usual.

The early peak came last year because of a low snowpack. Streamflows were less than 50 percent of average. This year the peak came early because of the high temperatures.

Hunter Creek was flowing at 551 cfs at noon yesterday. The previous high measured on that date was 511 cfs, and the median for the date is 180 cfs. That high of flow could prove deadly to dogs that often like to cool down in the water during hikes with their owners.

The Roaring Fork River just below the confluence with Maroon Creek was flowing at 2,180 cfs yesterday. The median is 880.

The river’s rise was also apparent in the midvalley. People walking their dogs on a popular path along the river behind the Mount Sopris Tree Farm noticed that the river was at its highest level there in several years.

Tim Whitsitt, who lives next to the river on River Oaks Lane in Basalt, has been measuring the flow for a decade. He said the river surged more than 6 inches between Wednesday and Thursday morning.

“Excluding the 1995 flood season, this is probably as high as we’ve seen it in the 10 years we’ve been in our spot,” he said. Even at that high of level, the river didn’t pose a threat to his home or property.

Flows into Ruedi Reservoir were also above average for the time of year. The Fryingpan River at Meredith was flowing at 869 cfs compared to a median of 690.

The Crystal River above Avalanche Creek was flowing at 1,900 cfs, well above the median of 1,200. The Weather Service notified officials at mid-day Thursday that the river could flood after midnight, spurring Pitkin County Emergency Management Coordinator Ellen Anderson to put a plan into action.

Deputy sheriffs planned to monitor the river throughout the night, and the road and bridge department was put on notice that it might be needed to remove debris.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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