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Runoff: Expect high, early peak

Expect the peak runoff in local streams and rivers to be higher than average and slightly earlier than usual because of warm weather expected in May, according to the National Weather Service.

The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs is expected to peak at about 6,500 cubic feet per second this spring, according to the weather service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. That is slightly higher than the Fork’s average peak in Glenwood of 6,150 cfs.

Last year the Roaring Fork River peaked at 5,720 cfs on May 24, according to the forecast center. The typical peak falls between June 3 and 18.

The peak is expected to come earlier again this spring, according to Brian Avery, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Grand Junction. While the peak is still expected to be higher than usual, it is losing some of the punch that was expected just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve already lost a lot of the snowpack,” Avery said.

Warm and dry weather this spring has eaten into what was once a higher-than-average snowpack in northern and central Colorado.

The snowpack up Independence Pass was only 77 percent of average Friday afternoon, according to data collected by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. It remains slightly above average in the upper Fryingpan Valley. However, in the Roaring Fork basin as a whole, the snowpack is only 61 percent of average for this time of year.

Rafters, kayakers and other river rats would like overcast days and freezing temperatures at night to string the runoff along for as long as possible. But if the warm temperatures appear as expected in May, it will compress the runoff season and create a bigger spike, Avery said. He wouldn’t be surprised to see the peak runoff in the third week of May on many streams and rivers in western Colorado, given the forecast.

That seems like a safe bet for the Roaring Fork, in part because of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s plans. The federal agency intends to boost releases from Ruedi Reservoir dam to 800 cfs for a two-week period during the last half of May. That will have a huge effect on the Roaring Fork below Basalt.

Spring runoff forecasts are available online at http://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov. Forecasts are scheduled to be updated in early May.

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


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