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Colorado’s rivers are starting to swell — but there are still feet of snow left to melt in the high country

Snowpack levels in some of the state’s river basins remain at about 50% of their peak. A man was killed rafting the Eagle River last week.

Mountains of the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado's Sawatch Range appear remain cloaked in a deep winter coat of white on Monday, June 10, 2019. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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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.”

With the month of June approaching the midpoint, the high mountains of the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks are still wearing a winter mantle of white on Monday June 10, 2019, during an EcoFlight held during the Western Governors’ Association conference in Vail. Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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.

MORE: With snow still looming in the nearby San Juan Mountains, Lake City prepares for a deadly spring runoff

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.

Dane Jackson paddles to his fourth GoPro Mountain Games Steep Creek title on Homestake Creek on Thursday. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

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.

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