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Runoff Forecast for Spring 2011

April 14, 2011
Author: Trouts Staff

With a La Niña winter slowly drawing to a close, there is a significant disparity in statewide snowpacks from the North to the South.  With significant snowfall throughout the winter in the Central and Northern Colorado High Country, and a below average winter in the Southern Rockies, spring and summer will undoubtedly yield a feast for famine scenario depending on where one resides in the state.  While an overall statewide snowpack reading of 113% as of April 1, 2011 may seem encouraging on the surface, a closer look at individual river basins paints a different picture.

Statewide Snowpack Readings

measured in percent of annual averages

Year = 2011

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

Gunnison

158

126

122

115%

-

-

Colorado

147

135

128

130%

-

-

S. Platte

126

120

121

123%

-

-

N. Platte

147

132

131

135%

-

-

Yampa-White

145

126

124

131%

-

-

Arkansas

105

103

108

103%

-

-

Rio Grande

107

80

88

76%

-

-

San Juan*

144

106

97

86%

-

-

State

136

117

115

113%

-

-

So what do these readings mean for our spring runoff?  There are ultimately two different scenarios that we could see occur.  First, we have a warm and dry spring which will cause a majority of the snowpack to come down very quickly.  In the North and Central mountains, this could lead to significant flows in the states freestone rivers, with flooding being a very real possibility.  In the South, the situation would be more dire as with an early loss of high elevation snowpack would mean that we would be reliant on summer rain to keep river flows and temperatures at safe levels.  The second scenario, one that I feel would be more in our favor, would be a cooler spring at higher elevations, which would ultimately elongate our spring runoff, while leaving us with high elevation snowpack later in the summer.  This would mean that we would be less reliant on summer rain to sustain flows and low water temperatures, as well as providing us with some banner fishing in the late summer and early fall.

While there is no certainty in how our spring runoff will play out, there are a few things we as anglers can watch to be sure our days on the water are as good as possible.  First, watch the weather.  Warmer days in the mountains, especially above 10,000 ft. will undoubtedly lead to snowmelt and higher river flows.  Second, watch the hydrographs.  Before you head out fishing, go to our Streamflow Section of our website and check the flows on the river you’re thinking of fishing.  If the flows have been steadily increasing, you may want to think about changing your plans.  But always remember that even though your favorite river may be blown out and unfishable, we are lucky to have a plentiful supply of lakes, reservoirs and tailwater fisheries that will all be fishable during the annual down time.  As always, feel free to contact us at the shop before you head out, as we’re always willing to offer up whatever advice we can.

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