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Sep 13 2013

A Day in the Field During the Big Thompson Flood (Footage)

In case you haven’t seen the national news and don’t live in Colorado, we have been experiencing constant rain (until this afternoon) since Monday across the entire front range from Colorado Springs and south to Fort Collins and north. The rain just did not stop and the foothills in particular were just getting hit hard. By Wednesday night, more intense storms started to begin and the flooding began. And the flooding has just been everywhere along the front range starting with Boulder Creek (through Boulder) on Wednesday night to the St Vrain River (through Longmont) to the Big Thompson River (through Loveland) and the Cache La Poudre River last night (through Fort Collins).

The Poudre spiked high last night (above 10,000 cfs potentially, it’s still unclear) and traffic has been a mess in Fort Collins all day today. Because of that, we did not venture that direction. Every bridge but one was shut down along the Poudre.

The Big Thompson started to peak yesterday and Loveland bridges started getting shut down early in the day. We headed into the field to see it and document it. Last night, the Big Thompson hit an even higher level. Our guess is that it was just at or under the 50-year event (at least at CR 29) but we’ll have to analyze the flows and take a closer look. We guess that because of how it overtopped County Road 29 up the canyon.

We’ll be processing this event over the next few months as we come out of it and see the full extent of the damage. I’m thankful for the minimal loss of life in Northern Colorado, although at least 3 people have died further south in Boulder and Colorado Springs. However, we also still don’t know the full extent of lives lost either.

Below is just a glimpse of what we saw today as we toured around. There will be more to come for sure.


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We first drove to the County Road 29 crossing at the Loveland Water Treatment Plant. The roads to the bridge were in bad shape but the bridge did well and we hiked in from there into the Silvan Dale Guest Ranch area by the Dam Store at the entrance to the canyon. This is what CR29 looked like when we got there yesterday (after about 4000 cfs)…

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This is what it looked like today after the bridge was overtopped…

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You can see how the right bank roadway is gone even though the bridge is fine. This next picture and video is at the Silvan Dale Guest Ranch upstream of the canyon. Here is the what the situation looked like yesterday before the larger event hit. This was from the CR31 bridge looking downstream. IMG_20130912_095922_573

Now look at what it was like today after the peak and in the midst of the severe damage. You’ll hear my reaction in the background as a tree goes in the water. It was just unbelievable. You can see how the river flanked the bridge on the right bank (left in the video) and then started eroding everything in site.

This next clip shows more of the erosion as well as the structures on the opposite bank that are being undercut by the flow. We saw folks trying to clear furniture out of the buildings and they later signaled us that they needed food and water as they were cut off and trapped there. We gave the sheriff deputy nearby their location and information and he relayed it to search and rescue. We saw multiple helicopters in the area.

I have a lot more to share but I’ll leave you with this image from the Dam Store at the entrance to the narrows of the Big Thompson where US 34 has just been obliterated. To see it like this just blew our minds. You could still see the river up on the highway in the middle of the canyon and you can see that earlier it actually came up as high as the part of road where we were standing, though the Dam Store did not have much damage as far as I could see.

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Here is the view a little further back where you can see the debris left by the river.

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It left you with practically no words. The power of this river during this flow was practically unfathomable. You model the flow and see the numbers, but it pales in comparison with actually seeing it.

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Please do not attempt to get back into these areas just to take a look! We had trained bridge inspectors with us and this is what we do for a living. The sheriffs were nice enough to give us access to CR29 and other places because we’re professionals. We were extremely careful around the rapid erosion and disintegrating roads, as well as downed power lines that we saw. Do not add to the problems by trying to get back in there just to get a peak!

Keep the Colorado Front Range in your thoughts and prayers as we pick up the pieces and assess the damage and people deal with the loss of their homes and businesses and possible more loss of life. We’ll have a lot more to come on this set of events.

2 pings

  1. South Platte River Aerial Imagery at Peak Flood Stage » Hydraulically Inclined

    […] of the Loveland Water Treatment Plant. We visited this area before and after the peak of the flood, as I documented in an earlier post. In this aerial image, you can see the damage to the road on both sides of the channel. You can […]

  2. Trying to Keep Our Heads Above Water » Hydraulically Inclined

    […] absence since we started this blog. To say the least, our work as part of the flood response to the 2013 September Colorado Floods has overwhelmed us! We have had so much that we have wanted to write about but we just have not had […]

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