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Warmer weekend temperatures could result with some minor flooding in the state

A snowy mountain overlooking a frozen lake.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
A harsh winter has left many parts of the state with unusually high snowpack.

Record levels of snow this winter have left Wyomingites wondering if flooding is going to be a problem this spring. Experts say it all depends on how quickly things warm up. Specifically, in the west and central parts of the state there could be some potential flooding as soon as this weekend.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a ‘hydrologic outlook’ for western and central Wyoming that extends into next week. Warmer daytime temperatures and nighttime lows that do not get below freezing are the culprit for potential flooding from the high snowpack this year.

“While most of the flooding potential will be as a result of runoff in basins, snowmelt in the foothills will also increase flow on small creeks and streams including some larger streams that feed into main stem rivers,” according to the outlook. “Ice jam flooding is also possible on rivers that are still ice covered.

For the long term outlook on flooding this spring, the NWS is predicting a slightly elevated flood risk along the North Platte River, specifically by Sinclair and Saratoga.

“Both of those drainages have very abundant snowpack,” said Tony Anderson, NWS senior service hydrologist in Cheyenne. “And in the Little Snake, it's even higher than on the North Platte. So our long range outlooks are showing very distinct chances of flooding beyond what would happen in an average or normal year.”

He said the agency is also keeping an eye on areas around Lander, Hudson and the southwest – a little north of the Flaming Gorge.

Anderson said with this year's high snowpack across the state, flooding could be a risk elsewhere if temperatures warm up too quickly.

“We've gotten quite a bit of snow, and when you put more water up in the mountains, you increase your chances for flooding,” he said. “That's kind of a general rule.”

Ideally, Anderson said moderate temperatures will prevent, or at least limit, flooding.

“Short bursts of heat followed by bursts of cooler temperatures, or just the nice long below average temperatures throughout the spring that allows the runoff to come in a more steadier rate versus suddenly coming off in one fast burst,” he said.

This weekend in the north and near Casper, temperatures will be in the 50s and 60s and will only get down to the low 30s at night – which could potentially create flooding issues.

The NWS recommends people clear culverts and flow paths to allow melting snow to run-off away from buildings.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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