Colorado floods predicted by scientists
Colorado, and especially Boulder, Colo., has a history of flash floods. In 2004, the University of Colorado's Natural Hazards Center listed a flash flood in Boulder as one of six "disasters waiting to happen" in the United States.
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The last 100-year flood in Boulder was in 1894, so the city was statistically overdue for another disaster. (Note that even though a 100-year flood appears on average once a century, it's possible for two 100-year events to hit in back-to-back years; the term actually refers to the 1 percent chance of the event happening in any given year.)Skip to next paragraph
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But the flood that Coloradoans remember struck on July 31, 1976. A storm dumped more than 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in one hour, laying waste to Big Thompson Canyon and trapping hundreds of residents and campers in the steep, narrow gorge.
Responding to disaster
This week, officials closed Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon before the worst flooding hit. The road was soon washed out. Sirens and text alerts warned Boulder residents of the coming flood. At the University of Colorado, police evacuated students from married-family housing, one of the most vulnerable buildings on campus. People living in remote areas received personal warnings by phone from their local emergency officials, according to news reports.
But despite all the advance planning, at least four people have died, two of them as they were leaving a car stopped in floodwaters, the Denver Post reported. But emergency rescuers also saved a man whose car fell into raging Boulder Creek when a road collapsed.
For the past two decades, Boulder County fire crews have trained to save residents trapped in floodwaters. They bumped up the crews' biennial practice schedule in 2011 after a massive forest fire that raised fears of increased runoff.
"We were pretty well prepared for it, but it doesn't mean all the residents were well prepared for it," Klesch said. "Part of emergency management preparations is knowing a certain percentage of people are going to make bad decisions," he said.
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