Dense snowpack helps LaPorte avoid flooding

Contrary to most expectations, LaPorte has escaped a major flood so far this year. However, Larimer County’s emergency manager Erik Nilsson said it’s too soon to put away the sandbags.

“It’s still a very high river,” Nilsson pointed out, and a big thunderstorm could yet push the river out of its banks.

The river has already had three crests this spring, beginning with the largest on June 8, and Nilsson said a fourth crest is quite possible. The river will stay high for some time, he said.

In late June, the river was still cresting, a highly unusual phenomenon. While June 8 saw a crest of 3,350 cubic feet per second at the canyon mouth, that was surpassed on June 26, when the river hit 3,390 cfs. Those crests compare to a peak of 4,670 cfs at the canyon mouth on June 12 last year, when an area near Timnath experienced considerable flooding.

Nilsson predicts that, without a major storm, further crests this year will not be any higher than those already experienced.

Emergency officials and many residents had expected a big flood this spring. “We were looking at historic amounts of snow,” Nilsson said, and in past years, a big snowpack produced considerable flooding.

However, consistency of this year’s snow was different than usual. Big snows came in late, Nilsson pointed out, in a series of storms that carried a lot of moisture. As a result, the snow compacted quickly.

“It was so dense at the top of Cameron Pass,” he said, “that you could drive heavy equipment on it.”

That made a lot of difference in how quickly the snow melted. “Slowly but surely, we realized that the dense snowpack wasn’t going to give us as many problems as an average snowpack that would melt more quickly,” Nilsson said.

He compared the difference to a couple kinds of snowballs. A snowball can be fairly soft, in which case it won’t really hurt if it hits someone in the back of the head. On the other hand, if a person compresses a snowball, keeps adding more snow and compresses it further, it becomes as hard as a baseball and could do some damage.

The really hard snowball takes longer to melt, Nilsson said.

With dire predictions of flooding, many in the Cotton Willow subdivision filled sandbags this year to protect their homes. The county dumped about 150 tons of sand in the neighborhood for residents’ use.

Members of the Hetzel family in LaPorte, who live on the river’s bank just north of the pedestrian bridge, filled 1,000 sandbags in preparation for the worst. They plan to keep the sandbags for future use, said family member Jay Weatherspoon.

Nilsson said people can store sandbags either full or empty. If empty bags are saved, they should be dried out well. With full bags, he advises putting them on a pallet to keep them off the ground and covering them so ultraviolet light doesn’t damage the material.

Recreation restrictions are in effect on the Poudre River. Inner tubes, air mattresses and small inflatable rafts are not allowed on the river until further notice.

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