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Spring 2011 Runoff Update | May 2, 2011

May 2, 2011
Author: Trouts Staff

With an epic winter slowly concluding, most anglers in Colorado are starting to speculate what runoff will be like over the next couple of months.  While my crystal ball is in the shop for repairs, I thought the next best thing to offer all of our customers is a weekly (or more frequent if conditions require) update on how our spring melt is progressing.  Hopefully this information will be invaluable for our customers as they plan their weekly fishing excursions.

This Weeks Overview

Following a wintery weekend in the high country, our state wide snow pack increased noticeably over the weekend.  This was welcome news for the Southern Rockies, as their annual snow pack has lagged compared to years past with annual totals below 100%.  The Central and Northern mountains added more precipitation to their already historic snow pack, creating further concern as to the possible runoff we could see once things start to warm up.

Snow - Precipitation Totals as of May 2, 2011

River Basin Snow Water Equivalent Total Precipitation
Gunnison River 143% 120%
Colorado River 159% 133%
South Platte River 151% 128%
North Platte River 164% 139%
Yampa/White River 167% 136%
Arkansas River 116% 97%
Rio Grande River 85% 93%
San Miguel/Dolores River 98% 100%

It's fair to say that the numbers speak for themselves.  We have A LOT of snow, so now the question is how is it all going to come down?  Unfortunately there really isn't a straight forward answer, so I will try and speculate as best I can.  There are really two different melting cycles that we will see.  First is the "valley melt", which is the snow in and around the valley floor of each river basin.  Because lower elevation temperatures will be the first to reach levels that will melt the snow, the "valley melt" stage will really be our first sign of runoff.  Keep in mind though, that the valley's are where there is the least amount of snow.  So while the melt of this snow will produce the first signs of runoff, it really can't tell us how the remainder of this process will go.

The second stage of runoff, the one that we need to be concerned with, is the melt off of our "high elevation" snow pack, i.e. everything above 10,000 ft.  This is where are snow pack is the deepest, and where a majority of our water is stored.  If we see high temps (60 degrees or more) reach this area and remain for a prolonged period, we will very likely see record, or near-record high flows.  The other scenario would be that temps at or above 10,000 ft. remain relatively low, particularly at night, in which case we would see a slow and gradual progression of our runoff.  While this would be a more ideal situation from the stand point of flooding, it would create a longer runoff period where our fishing would be limited.  I'll leave it up to you to decide which scenario you would like to see.

This Weeks Outlook

Temperatures in the high country for the coming week are supposed to be in the upper 50's to low 60's, which will ensure that we see a good amount of "valley melt".  The good news is that night time temps are supposed to be in the 20's, which will mitigate the amount of melt that we will see.  As such, I anticipate that we will see good to great fishing conditions on most of our states rivers, as the warmer weather will produce more bug activity, warmer water temps, and happier fish.  Whatever melt we do see shouldn't be significant enough to create "blowout" conditions, but rather may create some discoloration in the rivers.  Be sure and keep your eye on the water flows though, as things could change very quickly.  Check back next week for another update on our spring snow melt.




Tucker Ladd


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