Storm Chasing During Boulder’s 100-Year Flood

Jessica Farris -Creekside 3Photo by Jessica Farris

Drenched by torrential rain over a period of four days, creeks swelled into forceful rivers, dams burst and walls of water cascaded from the foothills all along the Front Range in Colorado. 18.44 inches of rain fell in South Boulder alone, but surrounding areas recorded 14 to 16 inches. Thousands have been evacuated to shelters. 3 died in Boulder County. Nearly 200 are unaccounted for, but many are still being rescued and don’t have access to phones. Yesterday, National Guard helicopters rescued over 550 people and the thwapping of blades could be heard overhead early this morning. Many towns are still completely cut off. Our average rainfall for the month of September is 1.63 inches. This is insane!

Living in a semi-arid state, most expect the occasional forest fire and we’ve had our share. Much of Boulder is located in a one hundred-year flood plain. Our one hundred years are up! This tops any rainfall recorded since 1864. We live on a hill.

A friend of my daughter, Jessica Farris, took these photos in her neighborhood.

Jessica Farris - 1st and Bower

1st Street and Gower in Longmont – Jessica Farris

Jessica Farris - Creekside

A family canoes in a nearby park – Jessica Farris

Jessica Farris - Creekside 2

It has become a waterpark – Jessica Farris

At first, the welcomed rain seemed like fun to many, something that wouldn’t last and should be enjoyed. College kids played in the underground walkway as water rose to their knees. Click here for video. Others went down streets and the Boulder Creek in inner tubes, but the rivers continued to swell and became violent. Boulder Police began arresting anyone in the rushing water.

I had some fun in the beginning too.

I had to retweet this!


Soon roads closed as rivers overflowed their banks. By Wednesday night, Boulder, parts of Longmont, Lyons and Estes Park were cut off along with many other small towns. It took my son Kelly an hour and a half to drive from Longmont to Niwot which is normally a ten minute drive. The Saint Vrain River cut Longmont in half. He drove north and east before heading south to our house. Determined to find a way back to his home in Boulder, he consulted and navigated frontage roads and side streets with higher topography to wind his way back. It took another 90 minutes for a 20 minute drive.

I think we all expected the storm to pass, but the storm continued to push up from the south.

The next day I received a Facebook message from Piper Bayard. The abnormal weather and subsequent flooding are so rare, we had to see it for ourselves. We went storm chasing. The rain continued to fall.

Boulder Flood 1

Storm chasing with Piper Bayard in front of Lefthand Creek which is no longer a creek.

Boulder Flood - Left Hand Creek

The little yellow sign on the bridge says 8 foot clearance. 1 foot remained.

The people on the other side of the bank look on with concern. Their neighborhood is Creekside as depicted in the first photos. The water continued to rise.

Boulder Flood - Left Hand Creek 3

The sidewalk meandering along the usually tiny creek is now covered by its rushing water.

Boulder Flood Left Hand Creek 4

The other side of the bridge.

Boulder Flood Left Hand Creek 5

The fire fighter watching the bridge informed us they would be releasing more water from a dam up above to keep it from breaking.  It increased in volume while we watched.

Boulder Flood - Left Hand Creek 2

We heard the St. Vrain Creek had risen over its banks just down the road. This was as far as we could drive since cars were being rerouted. The city is still cut in two by that river.

Hover Road St. Vrain Creek

Afraid we could get marooned in Longmont, we drove east to Erie.

Erie Flood

Erie 2

This bridge is officially “out.”

Erie 4

My daughter called Friday morning. She had to walk to a retail store she manages to make sure they weren’t flooded. On her way, she took several photos.

Courtney Lindau - Boulder High School

Boulder High School – Courtney Lindau

Courtney Lindau - Boulder Creek 3

The Boulder Creek obliterates the path. – Courtney Lindau

It was no surprise when the CU Football game was postponed.

Courtney Lindau  - Boulder Creek 4

Water receding from the creek left mud in its wake. – Courtney Lindau

Courtney Lindau - Boulder Creek

Yes. That is a house just beyond the Boulder Creek. – Courtney Lindau

Courtney Lindau - Boulder Creek (2)

The churning water below the bridge – Courtney Lindau

Courtney Lindau - Boulder Creek 5

A log floats down the swollen river. – Courtney Lindau

I found this chart that shows the peak in cubic feet of water. Last weekend, it ran at a mere 30 feet per second. On Thursday night it peaked at nearly 7000 feet per second!


Chart from the United States Water Data

The sun came out on Friday so my husband Danny and I took a drive hoping we could find a way into Boulder to check on our kids. Kelly had taken turns with his roommates bailing water from window wells around his rental the night before. 

Hwy 36 Middle Fork

We wouldn’t be driving down Highway 36 to Boulder anytime soon.

Hwy 36 2

The water pouring over the highway was at least 100 yards wide.

Hwy 36 Flood

Debris had washed up on the road from an earlier cresting.

Hwy 36 Flood 4

No longer resembling a highway, it looks like a beach.

Hwy 36 Flood 5

The shoulder had washed away. I could have walked out with those crazy fools to take pictures of the thundering river, but all it would have taken is a small surge and the water running along the road could have swept me away. I didn’t want to be another statistic and luckily, neither were they.

Hwy 36 6

Just beyond the fallen tree, the water raced across the road with force. 

Hwy 36 flood 7

A woman and her daughter were rescued from that house and later interviewed on the news.

Hwy 36 8

We turned around and drove back to 63rd Street.

Boulder Flood 63rd 3

Many fields are underwater. Danny noticed this sign.

Boulder Flood 63rd 4

I don’t think they will be irrigating anytime soon.

63rd Street Boulder Flood

63rd Street bridge.

Boulder Flood 63rd Street 2

It’s amazing how wide this little stream became.

Flooded House on 63rd

I feel for the thousands of homeowners who find their properties underwater.


Arapahoe Road and Foothills Parkway

Foothills Hospital flood

Boulder Community Foothills Hospital off in the distance.

Storm sewer clean up

Many young people cleared mud from the street and storm sewers.

Boulder Flood Lashley

The pounding rainfall accumulated so fast, it caught many unprepared. What started out as a lark several days ago turned deadly serious. Water burst from streams and found new pathways down the mountains bringing rocks and mud with its powerful surge. I just checked the news updates and they are looking for a fifth victim.

Two nineteen-year-olds died while returning from a birthday party on Linden Drive. Wesley Quinlan and Wiyanna Nelson were swept away as soon as they left their Subaru in search of higher ground. A third friend, Nathan Jennings, grasped the side view mirror which ripped off in his hands. He clung to a tree branch until rescued by volunteer firefighter. He dragged the frantic young man, covered in mud, up a hill to a nearby home. Nathan hysterically recounted how his friends had been swept away, convinced his fourth friend, Emily Briggs was gone too. A horn blaring from outside caught their attention. Emily was found in the car unharmed, but shaken. The bodies of Wesley and Wiyanna have been recovered. It is so very sad.

Last night, several northern Colorado towns including Greeley were deluged by rain and had to be evacuated. We received a reverse 911 call informing us that our water was no longer safe to drink without boiling it for 30 minutes. Danny and I hopped in the car and drove to the Niwot Market. I was relieved to see two pallets of 5 gallon water bottles in the entry. Danny loaded one into our cart. After we picked up a few other groceries, I noticed a man at the check out with two carts filled with them. Burt, the owner, informed him that to be fair, only one could be purchased per customer. He just stared and for a moment, it seemed tense, then he turned around and put the water back. Crazy.

Schools have been closed since last Thursday. I just read that St. Vrain schools may not reopen until next Thursday.

Another storm is predicted for this afternoon and could continue through Sunday morning. There is a page of counties included in the new flood warning, Boulder is one of them. This time the storm will arrive from the north and may come with upslope conditions. Of course it would. Upslope occurs when wind hits the mountains and flies up into cooler temperatures where moisture condenses as rainfall. It’s a word I love to hear in the winter associated with snowstorms, but this time I cringe as I batten the hatches. It’s raining again.

Please pray and send positive thoughts for the victim’s families, those still in need of rescue, and the ones unaccounted.

A Flash Flood Warning 

The Denver Post – The Victims Were Teens


The Boulder Daily Camera – 200 Remain Unaccounted

Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek Flood History

129 thoughts on “Storm Chasing During Boulder’s 100-Year Flood

    • Thanks so much Rich! It took a lot of hours, but I’m glad I blogged it. We are safe, thanks! I just went outside and it is thundering and lightning. It appears the next storm has arrived…


  1. Our thoughts are with you, and everyone in Boulder. A long ago good friend still lives in Longmont, and I worked for a while in Estes Park. I feel your areas suffering are close to my heart.


  2. Of course, I ‘like’ the graphic description and images of the disaster, not the scope of devastation which has turned the lives of so many people upside-down.
    We are all so at the mercy of extreme weather conditions.


  3. Wow – hope all’s well for you & family, for Piper and her family – and for everybody around the district. Take care and stay safe! An unprecedented event…but one, alas, that seems all too common these days around the world.


  4. Our thoughts are with you and praying everyone in boulder are safe. Here in my country we experienced the same, everywhere are flooded and we’re experiencing this from time to time starting on June upto now.


  5. I totally agree Susie that a major disaster locally does deserve a blog. Sad about those 2 teenagers!

    We had our major river flood in Calgary, Alberta late June. I never dreamt that living in landlocked prairies that I would live through a flood. I live only 1 block away from the river that overflowed. I was one of 100,000 people who were evacuated. My account here:

    My employers’ phone system was completely destroyed 10,000 landline phones and our headquarters building’s electrical and mechanical system was destroyed. So 1,000 employees had to work from home the whole summer.

    It was a weird summer …to me. A major flood for those directly affected, does bring up feelings of loss in life..etc.


    • It was so depressing to read the accounts of death in the paper yesterday. I could feel the gloom everywhere we went. The scale of flooding has never happened here in Colorado. It is frightening. We are still under a flash flood warning today!


      • Yes, I know. It’s like a pall falling over the city. And even post-flood, there is a long lingering sadness in bright sunshine. Flood recovery is a long, long process.

        I had to write my blog post but never knew how much I needed to until I did it (+ an art related one).


    • Thanks so much Susan. Mother Nature has officially run amok. I am looking out my window and can see the rain coming in from across the valley. It needs to stop…
      I am from Wisconsin and know what you mean about the flooding there too.
      Thanks for stopping by!


    • Thanks CC! So far so good! I am watching the rain come in across the valley in a great wall. We are under a flash flood warning until late this afternoon. I gotta believe this will end soon!


  6. I sympathize with those who are affected by storm and flooding. They remind me of my own experience every time I see photos of flood as my family and I needed to flee from our home in Bangkok to my grandma’s home in upcountry during Thailand flood. Our house was flooded around one month and we still see the impact on our home, local area, and others even though time has passes for almost 2 years. It was the time I truly came to understand the power of water.

    Sad to hear about the lost of young lives. Hope the situation there will be better soon and no more lives to be gone.


    • Wow. That must have been devastating.
      We have a couple roof leaks and our tap water is unusable, but nothing serious. I am afraid of how long it will take to clean this mess up. So many roads are out and businesses are closed. It is raining again….


  7. We had bad rains in CT in the fifties. I have pictures of my father posing bravely in our backyard in three feet of water. Your pictures make that look dooodely squat. You people are taking a beating with the downhill terrain and all. Stay safe Susie.


    • Thanks Tom!
      It is amazing to see how powerful water is. This hit at a time when our rivers were at their lowest thank God! Even then, almost 20 inches of rain is truly insane for a semi-arid State.


  8. Amazing and heartbreaking photos, Susie. It must be awful to watch the water keep rising up to your house and know that there isn’t anything you can do.
    Glad to know that you are safe. I know the aftermath is going to linger for a long time.

    I wish there was a way to send all this rain over to Yosemite.


    • That’s how I felt all summer when others were getting the downpours. What is really upsetting is all this water runs west. Our cisterns are outdated and small. Next year we will be in another drought! I
      We are on a hill across the valley from the foothills and are very safe. Our kids are in Boulder – not so safe. We are all under a flash flood warning until this afternoon. It has got to stop!


    • It is crazy here. We went to Boulder last night for dinner and there was a surreal feeling there. Many businesses remained closed. Some restaurants were only serving drinks. Of course it started raining while we were there.
      Another front is just about to hit our neighborhood. I’ve been watching it creep across the valley…


  9. Another lifetime ago, in OZ (Australia) I spoke at a council meeting against an amendment to the zoning laws that would allow residential buildings to go up in a flood plain . The ‘pro’ argument was that records showed that there hadn’t been a flood high enough to inundate the area in over a hundred years (therefore it was no longer deemed to be a ‘flood plain’) The ‘con’ argument was variations of ‘go tell that to the river’.
    … two years after the final residents moved into their shiny new homes, the river flooded, and the entire neighbourhood disappeared.

    Hands up anyone who thinks these ‘extreme’ weather events are going away anytime soon? I didn’t think so.

    So glad to hear you and yours are safe and well.


    • Oh my gosh! That is how it is here in Colorado. So many live in flood plain up and down the Front Range. What I couldn’t believe is how even the higher topography of Boulder was affected. We drove to Boulder last night and mud was everywhere. Our first home was in north Boulder and is considered to be on higher ground, but I bet the basement it filled with water.
      Thanks so much!


  10. Hi Susie, what an experience. One most of us would rather miss, but I’m glad you are alive and able to tell us about it. Be safe and I hope that the sun comes out soon!


    • Keeping my fingers and toes crossed for sunshine. Maybe later this week.
      What’s weird is this whole very slow system came from the south. I can see the wind just changed a moment ago and now the storm is coming from the north at a pretty good pace. It’s raining again…
      Thanks so much!


  11. Yikes alive! That is so scary. I’m glad your family is safe, Susie and I hope this next storm doesn’t take any more lives. p.s. your tweet was funny.


    • Thanks Catherine! You know me. Always trying to levity even in the face of “the storm,” literally! :)
      The northern storm just hit and brought wind. This system is supposed to move through much faster, but I fear for those being rescued. I doubt they can fly helicopters in this.


    • Thanks Darla!
      It just keeps on coming! I was just watching the storm come from over the mountains and across the valley, when the northern storm hit. Now it is blustery and the wind has changed direction. The rivers are rising again…


  12. So glad you’re safe, Susie.

    I’ve been MIA for a few weeks (Golden Heart; I refuse to give up on making that deadline). I’ve been watching the news and worried about you and other friends I have in the Denver area.

    Like another commenter, it was tough to click “like” on this compelling recap of the devastation in one of my favorite areas. It’s the pictures you shared and the way you brought us on site. I hadn’t before known the facts behind the “two dead” that were just a number to the news folks. The story of those young people? Heart-wrenching.


    • I actually toned down the story about the young people who died because I cried when I read it.
      It is crazy here and another storm just hit while I was answering comments. This time it is from the north and is faster moving than the slow sucker that sat on us for days. That has got to be a good thing right?
      What is your Golden Heart deadline? I did notice your absence by the way! So happy to see you Gloria!


  13. Mother Nature certainly has her moments. She is certainly a force to be reckoned with…that is for sure. Your coverage of these events is amazing, and leaves me speechless. I’ve been thinking about you since the story broke and I’m glad you are ok.
    ps. Katie Couric may have some competition…just saying.


    • Awww!! Thank you Lisa! You made my day. :)
      This post took so much time to put together.

      Mother Nature has become relentless and cranky. It is raining here and we are under a flash flood warning AGAIN!!!


  14. Sure glad you’re alright! I have been through a flood, and while it is scary and the destruction is awful, it is exhilarating. The energy that is produced is palpable and, to borrow from your handle, it is a wild ride.
    I see you are still under siege until Wednesday; I be thinking of you all and sending positive thoughts your way.


    • Until Wednesday??? Oh no!! I was afraid of that. I watched a lot of coverage this morning, but no forecasts.
      It can be exhilarating especially when Mother Nature is in control and is so unpredictable.
      We need a nice warm dry spell. It will take a while to dry out. It’s raining again…
      Thanks so much TC!


  15. Great photos. glad to hear you are safe and sound. We had our big rain in April, missed two days of school. 7 inches in one storm and no where for it to go. A few years ago we had 15 inches over a weekend, I can;t imagine what we’d do with 20 inches. Crazy. Natural always wins. Take care and hang in there – in every way.


    • Nature wins is right!
      Boulder must be at or close to 20 now. It’s been raining on and off all day with hours of steady downpour. 15 inches over a weekend? What is our winter going to be like?
      One good thing has been the lack of hurricanes. They seemed to have crept waaaaay inland to Colorado this year!
      Thanks Clay!


  16. Glad you are safe. What amazing pictures.
    We have lived in Texas for over 20 years–most of that time in drought conditions, interrupted by 100 year floods. We were looking for a new home and found some great ones with river access in a nearby town. Then the rains came. A week later all those houses we had been looking at were floating on down that river. The power of water is so scary.


    • That is so sad. I can’t imagine what that would be like.
      If you were interrupted more than once by 100 year floods, they would have to change the name to 5 or 10 year!
      Thanks so much Melissa! We are warm and dry except for few roof leaks… :)


  17. To paraphrase, “Ain’t no one happy when Mother Nature ain’t happy”. Those are amazing pictures of the devastation, Susie. I’m glad you’re safe and sound and are recording the story for the rest of us.
    Stay safe and sound.


    • Thanks Cayman. Staying safe and sound is the plan. I am hoping and praying we’ll dry out this week. It’s still raining. Many of my friends are pumping water out of basements. Water is so insidious. It keeps finding new ways into our house. Today water found its way through the top of doorway in our walkout basement. Danny taped up a tarp on the deck above. We learned that one from Kelly and other college kids protecting their window wells!


    • Thanks Phil!
      It is hard for us too. The water is everywhere and this new northern storm that came in is not helping. People are resilient. Basements can be dried out. We have a roofer coming tomorrow! Yeah! We just found another leak.


      • This is supposed to the hurricane season…it’s backwards world!
        We’re postponing a trip there (sob) we’d be in the way and the trails are probably a big mess. (sob again). IF the wedding is still on in the ski area, we’ll bop in and out quickly…daughter still may head to Boulder for a day – Buffy is safe, right?
        Minor inconvenience for us, life changing event for so many. (can completely identify).
        Glad you found a roofer – it can be hard under those circumstances (and the scammers are headed that way…) One great thing is eventually everything will be rebuilt – with care and thought. Tomorrow will be better ( who wants to leave Boulder, anyway?)
        Stay safe -appreciate your posts


  18. MY husband(the environmental hdro- geologist) will not be able to tell you why we got all the rain but he will tell you why it’s flooding. Remember all the fires? Simply put: they scorched the soils and flora which absorbs and retains heavy rainfall and the water has no where to go. He predicted this right after the fires last year, especially the Ft Collins fires. He also has a very interesting thought about naming of the the hundred year flood. Fist of all, it got it’s name by the percentages of occurrence and probability. it is a term WAY over used and largely misunderstood. I’ll have him give the scientific definition if you want it. But, hold on they (scientist) do NOT think like we peons do ;) I got the 411 on the flood big time just by mentioning your post…..


    • Thanks for reading Cathy!
      It is true that flooding can occur where there are burn areas. Four Mile was scorched and there is a lot of runoff there,.but the majority of Boulder County hasn’t experienced the fires of Fort Collins or Colorado Springs. It flooded because the soil is rocky and it simply had no place to go. 20 inches would saturate any soil. It is running off everywhere along the Front Range.


  19. Oh my! That’s just scary and sad. Part of me looks at all the pictures though, and it’s exciting to see what nature is capable of. I think we get very complacent and don’t give her her due. But it’s just horrible to think of the people who’s lives were taken or whose homes are damaged or destroyed. I will pray for them for sure. I got it in my head that you live in Canada, but I’m not sure why. I’m glad that you and your family are safe!


    • Hi Michelle!
      I think we have a false sense of security that comes with our culture, technology and being somewhat in control of our daily lives. Then something like this comes along and we are forced to stop and reassess. We are all looking at each other and saying, “Whoa!”
      It is horrible to see the damage. I am hoping that the people who are still accounted for are found soon. They may be cut off form phones and electricity.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!


  20. Those picture are amazing, frightening, and sad. It’s incredible what nature can do. I was so surprised that happened in Colorado. I’ll be in Denver in a few weeks. I love that state. So nice there. Hope you are ok and I pray for all those affected.


    • Let me know when you are coming in!
      It has been unreal here. I have stayed home when it was dangerous to keep one more car off the road. It is still raining with this new front. I have the worst cabin fever!!!!
      Thanks Phil!


  21. Susie this popped up on my FB page ( I follow several horse pages, being a fan of theirs), thought I would pass it on in case you or your friends knew of someone who needs hay.

    Colorado Horsecare Foodbank
    Like This Page · Yesterday

    If you or anyone you know needs hay due to the flooding please contact us at 303-670-1474 or Please SHARE this post!


  22. Wow, Susie, you have been hammered by a storm of Biblical proportion. I saw in the New York Times that the rain is continuing to fall and many are stranded and homeless. It sounds terrifying. I am glad to hear that you, Danny and your family are getting through it, but it’s so tragic that so many have lost their homes and in the worst cases, their lives.


    • It is so crazy here. We expect flash floods in the spring when we have snow melt and runoff, but this was EPIC!
      The good news is we will only get the occasional storm in the afternoon the next couple of days and they are predicting a dry weekend, but we all know the forecasters can’t predict past about 48 hours. I really hope they are right!!!!!


  23. The floods are getting a lot of play on our local stations as well as some that I watch from Calgary. I’m sure the reason is not only the newsworthiness of the material but also it has struck close to home. Calgary suffered a devastating flood in July that they are still recovering from and will continue to recover for a long period of time. MY thoughts and prayers are certainly with the people of Colorado. I’m glad that you live on a hill.


  24. Glad everything is alright with you and hubby. As soon as I saw the news coverage, I thought “Shit, I hope Susie is okay.”
    Are things slowing down at least? (Great shots by the way)


    • Thanks so much! We had a couple roof leaks and boiled our water for a few days, but we are across the valley and on a hill. We were just at the Muse concert and Courtney saw on Twitter that our water restrictions have been lifted. Yay!
      I am still praying they find those uaccounted for…


    • It is sad. I don’t know if they found more missing people today, I pray they did. It is surreal here. Everyone is trying to go back to life as usual and it is important for business but there:are 30 bridges still out and 200 people unaccounted for.


  25. I was wondering how you and Piper and your families were doing. I remembered you lived on a hill. Hope you didn’t get any damage from any upslope conditions. It’s all unreal and so devastating. Very, very sad.


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  27. That flooding brings back awful memories of floods here.
    I pray for everyone’s recovery; it will take a very long time. So many people don’t realize it’s so much more than just drying your stuff out.


    • My neighbor across the street was caked with mud while hosing off clothes as a volunteer. She said she had to go through the mud in a basement to retrieve clothes to wash. Everything is a mess although the number of damaged houses in Boulder isn’t as bad as I thought.
      Thanks Denise!


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