Massive Floods in Boulder, Colorado

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Sept. 12 2013 1:30 PM

Boulder Is Flooding

Boulder flood
A creek northeast of Boulder massively floods after days of rain. Conditions in downtown Boulder are severe.

Photo by Phil Plait

We’ve been suffering a long drought in my hometown of Boulder, Colo., including unusually hot weather for the past few summers. The ground has been pretty hard, and we’ve had fires, which reduce the vegetation. It’s been worrisome for some time, because we knew if it rained hard, we could be in trouble.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

We’re in trouble.

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It started raining off and on a month or more ago, but then a couple of days ago, the skies opened up. We’ve had more than an inch of rain in some places, and it’s had nowhere to go but down from the foothills of the Rockies. Boulder is now flooding; the Boulder Creek crested at 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) last night, well above its usual height.

Creeks all over the area are now rivers. I happened to be driving past one northeast of town this morning, so I grabbed my camera and shot some video.

Update, Sept. 12, 2013, at 18:00 UTC: In the video I mentioned I felt pretty safe on the overpass because the infrastructure was sound. However, I hadn't considered flash flooding. Debris has been building up in the creeks upstream, and if those let go, it can create a flash flood, a very dangerous wall of water. One has been reported at Logan's Mill in Four Mile Creek already. PLEASE, everyone, stay away from anywhere water is flowing, especially near creeks. They may look safe for now, but that can change extremely rapidly.

It’s hard to express what this is like. That creek is usually very serene; I bike here a lot, and it’s very quiet and nice. It might usually be high enough to reach your knees from this spot. But not today. It’s spectacular and very, very unsettling.

Boulder flood
75th Street east of Boulder is flooded and closed to traffic. Other streets all across the area are in similar shape.

Photo by Phil Plait

The weather calls for rain off and on for the next few days. If you live in the area, please check with the Boulder Office of Emergency Management website to stay updated; road closures and other information are constantly updated there.

I’m not sure how bad things are downtown—I’m not inclined to go see—but if you live there, the Boulder Sheriff is advising people to stay indoors and off the roads to keep the streets open for emergency vehicles. There have been two confirmed deaths from the flood, so please stay safe. This isn’t something you want to screw around with.

As for me, my area is flooding in spots but not dangerously, so we’re OK. Thanks to all the folks who have sent me notes through Twitter and email; I appreciate it. And let’s all hope the rains stop soon.

Correction, Sept. 13, 2013 at 04:00 UTC: In the text and video I mistakenly said this footage was northwest of Boulder, when it's actually northeast—I suspect it's because I was facing south the whole time, and got my directions backwards. I generally have an excellent sense of direction, so this is a little embarassing. I have fixed the text, but the video is annotated internally and so my error will be enshrined there forever.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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