What We Can Learn from the Deadly Boulder Floods
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“At best [artists] can make the hot breath of climate change both vivid and immediate to this visually oriented society… They can also deconstruct the ways we are manipulated by the powers that be and help open our eyes to what we must do to resist and survive.”
Weather Report did “deluge the populace with artwork” exhibited all across town in numerous venues and outdoors. I surmise that no one in Boulder had imagined then that the real “deluge” would arrive—so soon.
Colorado was plagued with devastating wildfires this summer. Now come the floods. A large storm system dumped up to 10 inches of rain, since Monday, in central Colorado, causing flash floods. “Flooding extended all along the Front Range mountains, including the cities of Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Aurora and Boulder,” the Associated Press reported. Boulder has been hit hardest though.
“This is not an ordinary day, it is not your ordinary disaster,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said on Thursday. Referring to flood warning he said, “You know, we sort of roll our eyes when they say you have to be prepared for the 100–year flood, so here we are.”
“The University of Colorado–Boulder campus was closed for the remainder of the week after a torrent of water from Boulder Creek flooding damaged about 40 buildings, or about a quarter of the campus. Hundreds of students were forced to evacuate residence halls. Officials also closed Boulder Valley and St. Vrain District schools,” the USA Today reported on Thursday.
About 11pm Thursday night I spoke with Anurag Agrawal, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Electrical Engineering department. He told me over the phone:
“I attended my class on Wednesday afternoon while it was still drizzling. I went back home from school at around 6 pm with the rain getting worse. At about 8 pm, I got a text message about the flash flood warning from the National Weather Service (NWS). Then every 30–60 minutes I was getting texts from NWS as well as the university alert system regarding the status of the floods. People were advised to stay away from the Boulder Creek and try and stay at high–rise areas. I had never seen anything like this in my 7 years at Boulder, and rarely back in India. Being on the 3rd floor of a building, I felt safe inside the house but a friend of mine who lived close to the campus was evacuated like many others. The campus was declared closed on Thursday and Friday. The small boulder creek where we used to go tubing in summer has turned into a river with water flowing at 5000 cubic feet per sec!”
The Los Angeles Times reported that “officials are seeing flooding in areas that are not even close to water. Many major roads in and out of Boulder were closed or impassable, and officials were asking people to stay in their homes.”
So far three deaths have been confirmed in central Colorado. Boulder’s Daily Camera reported that the sheriff’s office “feared that more fatalities would be discovered as crews tried to make their way into the mountain towns and heavily affected areas.”
There is more rain to come though. USA Today reported that on Thursday morning the National Weather Service “posted a bulletin warning of ‘Biblical’ rainfall in some areas, forecast 6 to 10 inches could fall through the weekend.”
The AP article made a connection between wildfire and flood—both are becoming more frequent and more extreme with climate change:
“Some of the flooding was exacerbated by wildfire… That was particularly true near Jamestown in an area scarred by fire in 2010 and another near Colorado Springs' Waldo Canyon that was hit in 2012. Rain is normally soaked up by a sponge–like layer of pine needles and twigs on the forest floor. But wildfires incinerate that layer and leave a residue in the top layer of soil that sheds water.”