Roaring Fork’s peak way ahead of normal
June 17, 2002
The Roaring Fork River’s runoff peaked about three weeks earlier than normal in this drought-plagued year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.A USGS Web site that tracks “real time” stream flows shows that the Roaring Fork River at Difficult Creek east of Aspen peaked at about midnight on May 31.Typically rivers and streams in the Roaring Fork drainage swell throughout the spring until they peak in the third or fourth week of June.But this was not a typical year. The snowpack on Independence Pass hovered at about 66 percent of normal for much of the winter. Total precipitation at the 10,400-foot elevation of Independence Pass is only about 59 percent of normal since Oct. 1.The drought created an early and paltry peak runoff.The Roaring Fork’s stream flow at the May 31 peak hit only about 120 cubic feet per second. The median stream flow for that spot on that date over the past 22 years is about 200 cfs.A chart plotted by the Geological Survey shows the stream flow this year climbed unsteadily until peaking May 31, then it plummeted.Typically the flow would keep steadily climbing until the later part of June (see related chart).Friday’s data showed just how dry it is this year. The steam flow measured at 44 cfs. The median flow for that date at that spot is 304 cfs, according to the Geological Survey.At a measuring site farther west in Aspen – after other sources such as Hunter Creek enter the river – the stream flow was at 61 cfs Friday, about five times lower than the median flow of 320 cfs.The trend held true on the Roaring Fork near Emma. It was flowing at 538 cfs Friday. The median flow is 1,290 cfs.At Glenwood Springs, the flow was 1,140 cfs compared to a median flow of 4,955 cfs.The Fryingpan and Crystal rivers are also experiencing flows significantly lower than typical. The Crystal at Redstone was flowing at 408 cfs Friday. Its median flow over 22 years there is 1,210 cfs.At Carbondale, the Crystal was flowing at 436 cfs but normally would have been at 806 cfs.The Fryingpan’s flow measured at 114 cfs Friday. Its median flow on that date is 304 cfs.For access to current stream-flow data for eight sites in the Roaring Fork drainage and 259 sites statewide, go to http://waterdata.usgs.gov/co/nwis/current/?type=flow&group_key=huc_cd.Find the site desired and click.