Jul 28 2011

A Flood Story continued

Flooding in Colorado is much different than most of the flooding that has been in the news this year.  There are no warnings days in advance, there is no time to put up additional flood protection, and it doesn’t last for weeks or months.  Flooding in Colorado is primarily the result of large thunderstorms that develop during the summer that produce large amounts of rain in a short period of time.  On July 31, 1976 Colorado would see its deadliest flood, that is still one of the worst in U.S. history.


Big Thompson Flood

A large stationary thunderstorm dropped between 12 and 14 inches of rain in less than five hours.  The resulting flash flood sent a 19 foot wall of water and debris down the steep and narrow Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland, CO.  The flow at Drake reached 32,700 cfs in a river that normally sees 100 – 500 cfs.  There were 144 fatalities, 418 homes and 52 businesses destroyed, another 138 homes damaged, and most of U.S. Route 34 washed out.  The cause, results, and lessons learned have been well documented, if you want to learn more about this historic flood I would recommend the following resources;

Big Thompson-july-31-1976-rushe

Fort Collins

After graduating high school I headed up to Fort Collins, Colorado to attend Colorado State University (CSU).  During the summer months I was a rafting guide on the Arkansas River out of Buena Vista, Colorado, where I also learned how to kayak.  In the summer of 1997 a group of friends headed up to run Gore Canyon on the Colorado River outside of Kremmling.  Gore Canyon is the states testing grounds for class V whitewater.  I remember it being a cold, grey, day that didn’t help the mood while running intimidating rapids in a deep narrow canyon.

When we got back to Buena Vista I remember some other friends from Fort Collins came up to me and said that Fort Collins had flooded.  I first thought it must have been the Cache la Poudre River that flows through town.  Then someone told me that the CSU campus had flooded which made me think catastrophic flooding if the Poudre was big enough to flood campus since they are a good distance apart.  Watching the news and calling my roommates that were still in the Fort over the summer helped fill in more of the story.


Fourteen years ago today Fort Collins saw it’s worst flood in history that totaled 14.5” of rain in a little over a day.  The Quail Hollow neighborhood in the southwest part of town received 10’ in less than 6 hours.  That is the most rainfall ever measured in and urban area in Colorado over that time period.  The flood impacted several areas along Spring Creek, CSU campus, and other drainage areas throughout the city.  Five lives were lost and the damages totaled $200 million.

While talking to my roommates about the flood, I learned that our house had water pouring through some basement windows, and that the sewer had backed up into our basement creating a 2 foot deep, brown, wading pool.  Unfortunately I had stored most of my stuff under the basement stairs.  While not a significant loss all of my college books and papers were destroyed including my hydrology, fluid mechanics, and hydraulic engineering books.  I was in town just a day after the flood and can definitely say it is a strange experience seeing the part of the town you live in destroyed by a flood.

This flooding event is also very well documented at the following locations links;

Other Colorado Flooding

There have been several other flooding events throughout Colorado’s history.  Following are some links for more info;


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  1. Jed Landen

    Hi my name is Jed Landen and my Mother Muriel rhodes was born in Deer trail in 1934. She was raising my 3 oldest siblings in Deer trail when this flood occured and I have heard a few stories about it. I was Just wondering if you had any more pictures from the flood in Deer Trail and I ws wondering if you know any of the Rhodes or Fussels I believe is the name. Oh yeah she graduated from Deer Trail High School in 1952. thank you for your time.

    1. Dusty Robinson

      I don’t know any of the names you mentioned. My parents may may have known them, and I am sure my grandparents would have, I was born in 1975, so I arrived well after the flood happened. I don’t’ have any photos of the flood, though I remember some books that my grandmother had that showed several pictures the day after the flooding. I also found this link (http://goo.gl/cQtsw) to a book that states that it has several images, though have never seen this one. If you contact someone connected to the Deer Trial Pioneer museum they may be able to point you other books.

  1. » A Flood Story Hydraulically Inclined

    […] (part 2) […]

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