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 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!

USGS.06730200.04.00060..20130907.20130914.log.0.p50

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.

DSC04734

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

Waterdata

The Boulder Daily Camera – 200 Remain Unaccounted

Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek Flood History

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

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  1. 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.

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    1. 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!

      Like

  2. 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.

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    1. 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… 🙂

      Like

  3. 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.

    Like

    1. 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!

      Like

      1. I hope so… the weather is becoming more bonkers and unpredictable across the globe. The pattens of nature that we once subscribed to are ever so slightly shifting…

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    1. 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.

      Like

      1. 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

        Like

  4. 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…..

    Like

    1. 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.

      Like

  5. 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!

    Like

    1. 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!

      Like

  6. 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.

    Like

    1. 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!

      Like

    1. A storm like this will never happen again, at least not at this level. I hope you are staying dry! We have a roofer coming by tomorrow. He has his work cut out for him! Sorry about the wet welcome!

      Like

  7. 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 info@horsefoodbank.org. Please SHARE this post!

    Like

  8. 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.

    Like

    1. 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!!!!!

      Like

  9. 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.

    Like

    1. It has finally stopped raining and life is somewhat going back to normal. We just found out our water is safe and we can use our faucets.
      Now if they could just locate all those missing people.

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  10. 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)

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    1. 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…

      Like

    1. 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.

      Like

  11. 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.

    Like

  12. Until now, I just never thought of Colorado when I thought of floods. Thanks for the sharing these and hope everyone unaccounted for is safe!

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    1. Just in the spring with snowmelt and run off. The fall is usually the driest time of year.
      Great news. They have accounted for all but 4 in Boulder County, but are still flying out people of Larimer where 200 need to be identified. I am so relieved.

      Like

  13. 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.

    Like

    1. 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!

      Like

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