Late snowstorms portend big flood

SALT LAKE CITY — Late winter storms are packing a punch to the Rockies, piling snowpack on top of already record levels across the West where officials are concerned about historic flooding, avalanches and mudslides.

"At this point, everybody is just sitting back chewing fingernails and waiting because the longer it stays cold and wet, the worse it's going to get," said Randy Julander, a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Julander said in a typical year the weather warms gradually, allowing snow in the mountains to melt slowly and ease into rivers and streams over time. That's not the case this year.

"June is right around the corner and sooner or later, it's going to warm up," he said, noting that instead of gradually warming over eight to 10 weeks, the West will likely see a rapid rise in temperatures heading into summer, a worst-case scenario.

"And it's not just Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. It's basically all of the Western states except Arizona and New Mexico," Julander said. "We're waiting for the chute to open and the bull to come out bucking, but he ain't moving, yet."

The northern Utah mountains could see up to a foot of fresh snow this week with a weather system that is dropping rain elsewhere and will soon head toward Colorado and Wyoming.

A slew of flood warnings have already been issued. The National Weather Service says up to 3 inches of rain is predicted in parts of southeast Wyoming, while up to a foot of snow is forecast for the mountains.

The winter storms are expected to dump up to 18 inches of snow in the northern Colorado mountains, where snowpack is already at up to 200 percent above average.

The record snowpack levels are almost too deep to measure in some parts of northern Colorado and have officials concerned about major flooding across the state's northern corners and down the eastern plains.

Wyoming's mountain snowpack already is at up to 250 percent of normal in some areas above the state's major river basins.