Friday, September 12, 2014

Floods in Colorado - Closer to home than you think

Many of you remember the floods that occurred across the front range last September. Mountains above Boulder and Ft Collins had upwards of 12 inches of rain! It has been a long time since La Plata County has seen flooding, but I am here to remind you; it has happened here and it will happen again. Just a few days ago we were under a Flash Flood Watch. The weather models from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction weren't clear on where the greatest impact were anticipated. Lucky for us, the rain stayed mostly west of us. Arizona and Utah got the biggest downpours which brought on the biggest impacts. Broad areas of Arizona and Utah received 3 inches in just a few (7) hours. Isolated spots measured 8" as clouds lifted against mountains and moisture was released. Precipitation caused by uplift against hills is known as orographic rainfall which is a very common phenomenon here at the foot of the Rockies.

To put this week's storm in perspective:

October 5, 1911: 

Durango's worst recorded flooding. The Animas river flowed at an estimated 25,000cfs. Areas in San Juan County at the headwaters of the Animas saw 4-8 inches over 36 hours. Durango received 3.42" Take a look at the Durango Herald article from the 100 year anniversary of the flood.

September 9, 1970: 

Durango again received over 3". This time over 4" fell over Vallecito and Lemon. Take a look at this report of that storm, It is very, very similar to this week's monsoonal storms except that in 1970 storms pushed NE into us instead of N into Utah. In 1970, the Animas was estimated at 11,600cfs, and 1,700 on the Hermosa. At the bottom of the page are some pictures from the aftermath of the 1970 storm.

Almost every year isolated storms cause flooding or debris flows somewhere: 

Animas valley, Vallecito Ck, Texas Ck, Pine River, La Plata River, Junction Ck, Lightner Ck, and Hermosa Ck. are all susceptible. Flows come from from long duration events or big downpours. We have had mud and debris flows on almost every drainage along the Animas Valley north of Durango and many others that occur from sudden cloud bursts. Debris flows are unpredictable, can change path at any time and are incredibly powerful.

If it happens today:

If we had a 1911 flood today these things would be likely:
  • Hwy 160 would be impassable at La Plata River, Animas River, Dry Creek, Florida River and Pine River at Bayfield. 
  • Hwy 550, and CR 203, 501, 213, 172, 250, 240, 204, 205, 140, 141 and others will be impassable. 
  • The Animas would come over Main St. near the intersection with Camino Del Rio.
  • Numerous roads, culverts and bridges, both public and private would be damaged or destroyed.
  • The railroad will be inundated and damaged in multiple areas.
  • Phone, internet (including most cell phones), electricity, natural gas, water and sewer systems would be damaged or incapacitated.
  • Responders and crews would likely be busy with their own family or stranded, making help and repairs difficult. 
  • Credit and bank cards won't work without phone or internet.
  • Gas pumps don't work without power.
  • Supply chains for fuel, food, propane, etc. will be delayed or cut off. 
  • Methane (gas well) gathering systems may be compromised.
  • Your water well, water treatment, city sewage, and many other water systems don't work without power (some systems luckily have generators).
  • Homes and businesses will be flooded or washed away.
  • and more...
While living in rural parts of the U.S. has many benefits, it also has drawbacks. Ranchers and outdoors-folk are more prepared for tough situations like these, however we all depend on services that are very vulnerable to natural and man made disasters. It is up to you as an individual to prepare for you, your family and your property for emergencies and disasters. Fire, EMS, Police, Sheriffs, volunteers, service providers and local government will do everything in our power to help you and to rebuild the community from whatever comes our way. Remember, we can't help everyone at once; we are all part of the community and personally impacted as well; we have limited capabilities; we have limited personnel, and we can't do everything for you.

Look around your home and your place of work.
  • What hazards threaten you? Floods, flash floods, wind, snow, fire? 
  • What in your home depends on electricity? Lights, your gas heater, water well, medical equipment, cell phone charger, community water, community sewer? 
  • What depends on internet? Land line phones, 911, cell phones (sometimes even the address book!), fuel for vehicles, ATM machines, email?
The answer is yes in most cases! This may sound scary at first, but there are ways to reduce the worry. The better you understand your surroundings and the better prepared you are, the less you have to worry about the hazards around you. 

Places to find more information:
For all and any emergency you need to have a plan. Have 3-5 days of medicine, food and water you your household. Teach your family how to find each other. Have a go kit ready in case you have to leave at a moment's notice. Protect important documents from a potential loss of your home.

1970 pictures
Junction Ck Road washout

Animas Valley flooding

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