Jul 272010
 
Authors: Alexandra Sieh

Thirteen years ago today, Fort Collins found itself wading through the wreckage of what has been one of the worst floods in Colorado’s history: the Spring Creek Flood of 1997.

As water quickly rose from the creek’s banks, alerts rang throughout CSU’s campus and Fort Collins, warning people to find higher ground.

By late evening, the flash flood had already damaged buildings and city structures in its path, ultimately taking the lives of five people and causing more than $300 million in damage to CSU and Fort Collins, as reported in the July 25, 2007 edition of the Collegian.

In reaction to the devastation, both the city and university began construction on preventative measures designed to ward against another tragedy, said Fred Haberecht, the assistant director of Facilities Management.

For those buildings most affected during the last flood –– most notably the Morgan Library, the Lory Student Center, the Eddy Building and the Education Building –– floodwalls and plazas have been added to keep other waters at bay.

CSU has also teamed up with the city of Fort Collins to create a storm sewer pipe, also called the Locus Street Outflow Project, which diverts water away from campus.

The CIPO project is another example of flood prevention, in which the city created a detention pond at Taft Hill and Prospect Roads that collects excess water, keeping it from running toward campus.
All a part of “life on the Front Range,” as Haberecht explained, the projects on and off campus were designed to avoid another disaster like that of the Spring Creek Flood. But since that time, the city hasn’t had to test these measures as rains and river conditions have remained at manageable levels.

That fact hasn’t stopped those at Facilities Management from keeping their eyes open for another flood.
Amid what Nolan Doesken, a state climatologist and director of CSU’s Colorado Climate Center, has described as a peak season for potential severe storms and flooding, Haberecht and his team are still wary of storm conditions for the next few weeks.

From July 20 through August 12, Colorado faces a period of intense rains and “prolific” lightning, Doesken said in an e-mail interview.

While this isn’t to say that there is no risk at other points in the year, these few weeks settle into ideal rain conditions, Doesken said, thus raising flood potential.

There are four reasons for this heightened probability. First, there is “plentiful solar energy to initiate convection,” meaning that the sun is close, heating the ground and causing warm air to rise. Winds are also moving more slowly, allowing heavy rains to settle over a region for longer periods of time.
The troposphere (Earth’s lower atmosphere) also reaches its warmest temperatures during this time of year, allowing it to hold more water vapor, building up conditions for storms.

The final reason, Doesken said, for this season’s peak of storms is found in North America’s monsoon circulation. A wind and rain pattern that travels across the continent, the monsoon circulation is at its peak during these weeks, allowing moisture to accumulate over the states.

With an ideal climate for storms settling in the skies, Colorado –– the northeast corner in particular –– is up against a season already defined by severe flooding and thunderstorms.

Along with the Spring Creek Flood in Fort Collins, Coloradans remember the Big Thompson Canyon Flood of July 31, 1976, one of the most deadly flash floods in the state’s history.

Killing 144 people and devastating towns all along the canyon and near Interstate 25, the Big Thompson Canyon Flood is another that resulted from the conditions Doesken described.

Despite this destructive past, Fort Collins residents needn’t fear a repeat of 1997’s flood.

Most storms will be “garden variety” storms, producing less than 2 inches of rain, Doesken said. It is when rainfall exceeds that residents should be prepared.

He recommended that residents always stay alert and watch the skies.

Haberecht advised the same, reminding people to find higher ground when storms roll in.

Since ’97, Fort Collins is more prepared, Haberecht said, with the impact of that flood still on the minds of residents and CSU faculty alike.

“Both Fort Collins and CSU have taken precautions to mitigate against another storm event,” he said.
But as is the case in most natural disasters, precautions are just defensive moves.

“Mother Nature is going to take its toll,” he said. “We’ve set up protections, but that doesn’t mean we can control things.”

Design Editor and Copy Chief Alexandra Sieh can be reached at design@collegian.com.

*Attend the Big Thompson Canyon Memorial *

What:
Community members will join to remember the flood and those lost in the waters that day 34 years ago,
Larry Flambeau will share his firsthand experiences, and
Scholarships will be awarded to six of the victims’ great-grandchildren.

Where: Near the Big Thompson Volunteer Fire Department one mile below Drake Co., 13 miles west of Loveland

When: July 31 at 7 p.m.

For more information: Visit http:// www.1976bigthompson
flood.org.

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