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

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