Apr 182008
Authors: Bijah Gibson

Renewing memories of the floods that ravaged Fort Collins in the summer of 1997, some weather experts warn that heavy snowfall last winter could mean flooding for parts of Colorado outside of Fort Collins this spring.

Nolan Doesken, a senior research associate and director of the Fort Collins weather station located at the CSU Foothills Campus, said this winter has been unlike any in recent years.

“We haven’t had one like this in quite a while,” Doesken said.

Using a network of weather stations around the state to keep tabs on the climate, Doesken said she has observed that cold temperatures this winter that have continued into spring, keeping large snow packs from melting.

Doesken said that the areas most at risk include many of Colorado’s northern mountains around the towns of Vail and Steamboat Springs as well as certain areas of southern Colorado such as the town of South Fork in the San Luis Valley.

The soils in low mountain valleys, Doesken said, are highly saturated with other materials, and melt waters from higher elevations will not be able to absorb into the ground, prompting Doesken to suspect flooding in the weeks and months to come.

“There is no place for extra water to go,” Doesken said.

Since temperatures have not been consistently warm up to mid-April, there are better chances that large quantities of snow at high and low elevations will melt simultaneously, leading to flood danger.

In most years, snow melting is spread out over a period of months, but Doesken points out the potential for flood danger this year noting that the deciding factor will be how the snow melts in May and June.

“The danger will come if it stays cool in May and then we have two straight weeks of blistering hot weather,” said Doesken.

The mere mention of flooding often brings back memories to many Fort Collins residents of the devastating flood that occurred in 1997. The flood destroyed parts of the Morgan Library and the Lory Student Center, including the offices of Student Media. According to Doesken, however, another flood of that magnitude is not likely to be caused by melting snow.

“It takes a lot of snowmelt coming down the Poudre to flood Fort Collins,” stated Doesken said. “For the Poudre, the risk is pretty minor.”

Doesken added that above-average amounts of water running in Colorado’s rivers increases the risk to those participating in river-related sports such as rafting and kayaking, and he urges those participating in such sports to act with caution.

“More water adds more velocity and colder water temperatures,” Doesken said. “The river this year may have a little different message.”

Staff writer Bijah Gibson can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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