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There is still snow left to melt — feet deep in some areas — in Colorado’s high country as the state’s rivers begin to swell after one of the heaviest winters in recent memory.
Forecasters say the Colorado, Yampa and Animas rivers in the western half of the state could be running above normal into July with roughly half the snowpack still left to melt.
“We still do have quite a bit of snow up in many areas,” said Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “That’s significant for this time of year.”
Statewide, the snowpack is at 761% of its normal level as of Monday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Some of the rivers are already near bank-full or already above bank-full,” Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Rivers are running high because of the rising temperatures and the snowmelt.”
The weekend’s cooler temperatures helped slow the melt some, but toward the end of this week and into the start of next week flows are expected to reach their peak.
“As we go on that receding edge, if we get another real warm few days — three to five days of real warm weather and clear skies — then that could bump that up a little bit higher,” Strautins said.
A flood advisory, cautioning about flooding in low-level areas, is in effect for most of the Western Slope.
Lake City, which has been of high flood concern because of the combination of deep snowpack and avalanche debris, is under a flood warning.
A video posted to Facebook on Sunday of a flyover of the Rio Grande River near Del Norte showed the waterway overflowing its banks in may areas.
“So far, the runoff has been manageable,” Strautins said. “So, that’s a good thing. We are continuing to monitor it for the next few weeks. If we get a real strong warm up and a lack of clouds that could intensify the runoff and we could get some peaks in then. I think the next week or two are the time frame to have an elevated awareness of that.”
Officials are warning people to stay away from the weakened banks of swollen rivers and to not recreate on the waterways without prior experience. A rafter died in the raging Eagle River last week.
The state is currently 100% drought free, a status not reached in the 19 years since the U.S. Drought Monitor began recording conditions.
Aspen Skiing Co. announced Monday that it will reopen the top half of Aspen Mountain for skiing and snowboarding this weekend during the aspen Food & Wine festival. The last time the resort was open for the festival was 2008, The Aspen Times reports.
Arapahoe Basin ski area remains open as well.