Today’s article was intended to be a discussion of current challenges with our government. But it seems timely to report on the flooding here in the Front Range of Colorado.
As you may know, Colorado has been suffering from dry—even drought—conditions for the last several years. Forest fires have destroyed many hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of acres of forest. Wells have failed to provide water, water rationing in the cities has been necessary, and fire bans have been the norm during the summers. The ski areas have fought to keep decent snow on the mountains by making their own.
But drought is not our current concern. The second half of the summer brought the afternoon rains to the Front Range reliably. It was so refreshing to watch the mountains green up and the fire bans cancelling across the state. The Colorado Rockies returned to the lush, green world that longtime residents remembered from twenty plus years ago. As we began to look forward to a record ski season, something totally unexpected happened this week.
On Monday, the afternoon storms got bigger. They continued through Wednesday when it rained in earnest. The rains were substantial; however, we frequently have heavier rains. But the ground was saturated. And the rain did not quit. Steady, moderate rain just kept on falling. Those of you who have experienced the monster, flood-producing thunderstorms of the south would have yawned and looked forward to a nice night’s rest listening to the soft rain on the roof. When my wife returned from town reporting water running over the road in our mountain canyon, I was surprised. But the real surprise was what happened the rest of the night, Thursday, Friday, and continuing tonight, tomorrow, and perhaps even on into Monday.
Floods. Floods the likes of which have not been seen in Colorado. The saturated ground could not hold more water. Yet, the water kept coming. Not from monster storms, but from persistent rain. First the canyons in the mountain foothills flooded. Then the water flooded the cities below. Roads washed out all over the Northern Front Range. At first it was landslides, rock slides, and water on the roads; then the raging creeks started undermining the roads which collapsed. Then the culverts and bridges were ripped out and went tumbling down the raging torrents.
The police scanner revealed shocking stories of houses collapsing. People were trapped outside in the rain at night with temperatures in the forties, and emergency response crews could not get to them due to the washed out roads. Cars have been washed off bridges and tumbled down canyons. Many areas were evacuated but some communities could not evacuate because there were no remaining roads. Indeed, as of this morning, there are four confirmed deaths with nearly 200 people unaccounted for. Virtually every road in the northern Front Range was flooded.
We live in the Coal Creek Canyon area. Our canyon is not a major watershed. Coal Creek, which has flowed gently beside the road for hundreds of years, is usually no more than a gentle trickle, if not completely dry. No one would expect what happened on Wednesday and Thursday. We have never had issues with flooding. Everything around here was built on granite. The roads are solid and have withstood nature’s fury with blizzards, baking sun, and heavy traffic for decades.
As I write this, the roads all around the area are closed; indeed they are not passable. Our community, in and above Coal Creek Canyon, has multiple roads that connect us with Boulder, Arvada, Golden, Nederland, Central City, and Idaho Springs. Every single road was washed out and impassable. Crews managed to shore up one road at 4 AM this morning that will allow limited access to and from our area, but this road is normally not heavily travelled as it adds an hour to the drive to the metro area.
What’s more, many homes in our area rely on culverts where their driveways meet their road. Gullies many feet deep and wide gape open where their driveways used to be. Self-reliance has become a reality. There is no grocery store that can be accessed. There are no gas stations working. Emergency crews cannot drive to many areas. Some are without power. The natural gas service has been compromised and turned off, leaving many without heat or the ability to cook food. Some have no water. Many houses are flooded. We are blessed that it is not colder, but still temperatures have been in the forties and lower fifties at night at this altitude. The high tomorrow is forecast to be 58 degrees down in the plains; that translates to a high of around 45 degrees in our community. Lows will approach freezing.
The water is still raging. The rains have subsided, but thunderstorms are forecast for the next several days. It could be a long time before access to groceries and other services is restored. This is an unexpected challenge in our area. We are accustomed to blizzards and forest fires, but we have little experience with floods. It just goes to show that people need to be prepared for the surprise emergencies.
Our family is blessed. We are high and dry. We have plenty of food and water, as well as water filters. We have wood heat. We are healthy and strong. We have everything we need to be happy at home for the coming days (weeks?) until normal access to services will be restored. We still have electrical power, but we are prepared to go without that too, if need be. We have made sure that our neighbors have what they need as well. We are prepared to share food and emergency cook stoves (www.180tack.com) for sterilizing water and cooking. We are enjoying the benefits of being prepared for the unexpected.
Pray for the people of Colorado this weekend. The crisis is not over yet. There are many who are not prepared. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been forced out of their homes. Emergency crews are being pushed to their limits. The flooding is likely to continue and may even get much worse over the next few days. Thousands are without access to grocery stores, gasoline, and even clean drinking water. This may not be an EOTWAWKI scenario, but what a surprise!