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Steamboat Geyser again draws a crowd

Posted: 8:30 AM, Apr 20, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-20 09:46:21-04

One of the most popular features in Yellowstone National Park last summer is again topping the must-see charts this season. Steamboat Geyser has now passed through a full year of steady eruptions.

All winter long, access to Steamboat was limited to just a few over snow vehicle visitors, but that doesn’t mean the geyser was sleeping. Far from it. Since the park interior closed in November, Steamboat has been going off about every 7 to 10 days.

Mike Poland, Director of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, showed a graph of the water levels in Tantalus Creek to demonstrate when Steamboat erupts. “Steamboat had eruptions on March 4th, That’s that spike right here. March 11 seems to be a more impressive eruption, quite a nice spike. March 17th, another good spike, and finally this one right here on March 25th,” said Poland.

After that, Steamboat waited 14 days before going off again; that was its longest break since last August. Park rangers told MTN on Friday that lots of people told park staff they plan to make Steamboat their first stop in the park this season.

Sherry Scarborough of Red Lodge was standing on the overlook for Steamboat about noon Friday with nothing much to watch. The famous powerful geyser was lightly steaming away but that was about it.  Scarborough said she tried to see the geyser go off last season but missed it then as well.

“Yes, I’ve seen it, but just as it is right now. Just, teasing us,” she said while laughing under a bright blue sky and comfortable 60-degree temperatures at the Norris Geyser Basin.

In 2018, Steamboat had 32 major eruptions, the most since records have been kept. There are 12 eruptions so far this year.  If Steamboat keeps that rate up, it would blow by last year’s record with 44 major eruptions in 2019. But geologists are quick to note that Steamboat is totally unpredictable and could stop at any time.  In fact, a steady uplift of the ground in the Norris Geyser Basin, where Steamboat is located, is slowing down.

“Since about October or so, there’s been very little change in the deformation of Norris; in fact, that uplift seems to have paused over the last few months,” said Poland.

It’s not clear what that might mean for Steamboat or any of the other features in the basin, but changes on the ground can mean changes underground where the intricate plumbing systems and thermal areas that power the geysers are located.

So, sooner is likely better than later if you want to try and catch one of Steamboat’s rare 300-foot tall water eruptions. But it’ll take a bit of luck too because the geyser goes off at irregular intervals and at all hours of the day or night.

One last tip — If you do go to visit Steamboat, wear some sturdy hiking boots. Snow is piled three feet deep on the boardwalk leading to the Steamboat overlook and it’s slippery to navigate.