The 2013 Colorado Epic Flood

Colorado is typically a very VERY dry place.  We get intense heat in the summertime, we get the occasional sprinkle which soaks into the ground and dries up before you even knew it rained.  In the wintertime we get sub freezing temperatures for days on end.  It snows but the snow doesn’t melt, it evaporates before the temperature rises above 32 degrees.  Once in a while we get a BIG snowstorm that the whole country knows about because the Denver airport is a major hub and it messes up air travel for everyone.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get a snowstorm in the spring where the snow is actually wet enough that it will stick together and then, only then, can you make a snowman or a fort.

This week we’ve experienced what the experts are calling a 500-year event.  I haven’t watched the news yet today but yesterday they were saying that Boulder (just 10 miles down the road) got over twelve inches of rain….. and one of the local weather people said that if it was wintertime and this precipitation had been snow, it would have been twelve FEET of snow.

We’re not used to this.  I can count on one hand the times when I was a kid that we got to go out and play in the rain.  (Yes, you people that live in more moist climates, when it rains here, we go play in it!)  I vaguely remember the flooding of 1965, but I was only four years old so it didn’t make a huge impact on me.  In 1976 there was the Big Thompson flood which killed 144 people.  I was a teenager, we lived out on the plains where even the creeks are few and far between, but we’d just picked up my sister from church camp in the mountains not far from the disaster.  If the timing had been just a little different, that flood could have had a direct impact on our family.

So last weekend, when it was in the upper 90’s and we were hearing that we were going to have cooler weather (70’s?  YESSSSS!) we were ecstatic.  Never did we think that this cooler weather was going to be accompanied by rainstorms of epic proportions.  Calling off school in September?  Because of rain?  For TWO DAYS?  Really?

Those of you that follow me on Facebook may remember me posting something on Monday about forgetting to close my sunroof.  Yes, I was working in the basement, I heard the thunder but it just didn’t compute.  It never rains enough here for me to have to think about stuff like that.  I finally went upstairs, looked out onto the driveway, it’s POURING….. “Oh, holy crap. I left the sunroof open to keep the car cool!”  Yep…. the console cubbyholes were filled with water and the blanket on the floor in the back seat was damp.  The car will survive (it’s actually cleaner than it’s been in a while!) and I rescued all the wet stuff.  But, even then, it did not occur to me that we were going to have SO.  MUCH.  WATER.

Luckily, our house is on top of a hill.  We’re more at risk of flood damage from a plumbing problem than a downpour problem.  Years ago we dug out the window wells so that any water accumulating there would get properly routed around the foundation instead of into the basement.  The roof is 27 years old and we’re watching it pretty carefully, but so far we haven’t discovered any leaks.  Yes, we’ve been very, very lucky.

Jon wasn’t able to get to work in Boulder yesterday because we live north of the St. Vrain River and there was no way for him to cross it to drive southwest to Boulder.  He and I went out in the big green truck to see some of the flooding.  I took the camera, the battery died in the middle of it all, but I did get a few pictures. We didn’t venture out very far, just along one highway (Colorado Highway 119) that comes into town from the interstate.  We heard later that this road was closed.

Here’s a map of the St. Vrain Greenway trails, the pictures were taken along the north side of Highway 119 between 119th (west of the junction of 3rd Ave. and Highway 119) and Emery Street (a block east of Main Street).  You can see the “normal” path of the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek in this view:

http://www.everytrail.com/guide/st-vrain-greenway/map

You can click on any of these photos below to see a bigger view.

Just west of 119th Street (north side of highway 119):

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The bridge over Left Hand Creek looking north, and flooding of the St. Vrain south of the waste water treatment plant:

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The roundabout on Martin Street just north of Highway 119 (Ken Pratt Blvd.):

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Harvest Junction shopping center (north side), between Martin and Emery.  If the entrance to the parking lot hadn’t been blocked off, we’d have driven in there to do some major puddle splashing!

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Looking north from the stoplight at Emery and Ken Pratt:

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Somehow, looking at still pictures just doesn’t show the whole story.  Someone published a video on YouTube that makes it even more real (for my internet-phobic friends, you can click on the square in the lower right corner to make it full size, and click in the same corner to reduce it again.  To make it play, click on the button in the middle of the picture, or on the triangle in the lower left corner):

I’ve watched videos like this before when flooding events have happened elsewhere in the country, and thought to myself, Wow.  That’s a lot, lot, LOT of water.  But somehow, it’s different when you watch something like this and say to yourself, “Hey!  I know exactly where that is!” or “Oh, my goodness…. I just drove through there a couple of days ago!”

The local news stations were broadcasting images nonstop yesterday.  In Aurora, a reporter found a young woman who had just bought a kayak off of Craigslist a couple of weeks ago.  The woman was kayaking all over the place and having a ball…. she’d just had her first whitewater experience on “Peoria River” of all places! Entire parks are filled with water and have become lakes.

It’s going to take a long time to recover from this.  There are so many roads and bridges that have been washed away, so many homes that have been evacuated.  My family and I have been very very lucky, and now it’s up to us to help our friends and neighbors that haven’t been as fortunate.  Here are a couple of links:

http://www.redcross.org/co/denver/about-us/locations

http://www.unitedwayfoothills.org/floodrelief

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