Historic Colorado Flooding - KMSP-TV

Historic Colorado Flooding

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An unbelievable situation continues to unfold along the Front Range of the Rockies in Colorado. As much as 14 inches of rain has fallen in the last couple of days leading to one of the worst floods in Colorado history. Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson River both hit record crests as the rain continues to fall. This brings back tragic memories from a flash flood that enveloped the Big Thompson River that killed 144 people in 1976 and remains to be one of the worst flash floods in U.S. history. Because of modern day warning systems and the widespread and well-advertised nature of this flood, the death toll has been low sitting at 3, however officials are concerned that it may rise as the full extent of the damage is realized over the weekend.

(The picture to the right is how many are getting around... this is in Commerce City)

The Big Thompson River crested over 9 feet back in 1976, which is about 6 feet above where it usually is, sending a torrent of water down stream and completely washing out several heavily populated camp grounds. Here is just one image of the devastation that occurred courtesy of the Denver Post.

So how does an event like this happen? Well, it's simple really… too much rain over a small and very steep area. The water has no place to go but down where gravity takes it, and that's where the Big Thompson River lies. Here is a map of the affected areas back in 1976. I have circled the areas downstream that have seen a large population increase since 1976.

Now, almost 40 years later, residents are dealing with an even worse scenario as the Big Thompson River has crested nearly a foot and a half above the 1976 flood level. Here are the water levels from the Big Thompson River.

You can see that it crested well into major flood stage above the previous record crest. So I know what's going through your mind… a 6 foot rise in water levels… big deal right? If the Mississippi water level rises 6 feet, we don't even bat an eyelash. But for the Rockies it's much different. The topography doesn't allow for a big change in water level because the slopes are so steep in many of the valleys, so a small change in water level is a big deal.

The same sort of scenario is also happening across much of the city of Denver with arguably the Boulder area getting the worst of it. Boulder creek has now crested twice with the larger crest at nearly 8 feet. Again, doesn't sound like a big deal, but this is some ten times higher than it usually is on any given day sending about 300 times more water rolling through it than on the average day.

So how much rain does it take to get this kind of flooding?? A LOT! Boulder for instance has officially seen just under a foot of rain… they average 14.5" of liquid precipitation all year! So they have seen 85% of their yearly precipitation in just 2 days! Here is radar estimated rainfall from eastern Colorado over the last 2 days. Notice that it's not just the Denver area dealing with high water. Colorado Springs is getting it too with more than a foot just east of the city.  Not to mention parts of western Kansas are getting hit hard as well with the largest 2 day rainfall total in history in Goodland at over 5 inches.

Video of some of the rivers along the Front Range can be found here.

Here are some pictures taken from the Fox station in Denver... the first picture though is courtesy of Mike Seidel.

(This is I-25 north of the Denver area as it cross the Big Thompson River... or I should say the river now crosses the interstate.  The road is closed until further notice.)

(This was a baseball and soccer field at Utah Park and now its under several feet of water.  Could be weeks before it dries out.)

(Fairfax Park in Commerce City underwater.  Many parks in the Denver area double as drainage areas for heavy rain so many of them look like this.)

(A bridge being overtopped by rising river levels.)

(Dozens of neighborhoods now look like this with basement flooding reported in every corner of the Denver area)

(Another rising river that's flowing out of its banks)

(An Embassy Suites isn't immune to the flooding with this one located at I-70 and Havana)

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