Boulder’s 100-Year Flood and Weather Weirding
I have lived in Boulder for nearly 30 years and have never seen anything — weatherwise — like what I’ve witnessed these past two years.
Last summer, standing in the front yard of my friends’ home in east Boulder, I watched pine trees near the iconic Flatirons burst into flames like matchsticks. We were in the midst of a severe drought, which had sparked a spate of deadly wildfires. Slurry bombers managed to extinguish that particular wildfire, but not before the National Center for Atmospheric Research — nestled on a bluff below the advancing flames — was evacuated. Consider the irony of the world’s leading climate research facility being evacuated due to climate-induced wildfires. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
Last night, standing in the front yard of that same east Boulder home, I watched something else I never thought I would see here: a river of water flowing down a suburban street strong enough to carry away a child. Only an hour before, I had traversed this street effortlessly with just the gutters overflowing. Now water was lapping at the front yard and running swift like a river.
Earlier in the day, I stuck out on foot to see Boulder’s 100-year flood with my own eyes. It was a humbling sight. Here’s a dramatic video I captured of raging Boulder Creek.
After spending more time near the creek than one should, I headed to higher ground, only to discover that even on The Hill, one of Boulder’s higher neighborhoods, water was raging like a river down streets and into homes. Driveways had morphed into streams and steps into waterfalls. It was here that I stumbled upon a desperate effort at the intersection of University & 7th to reinforce a sand wall holding back the torrent of water and picked up a shovel. Here’s a video I took of the scene.
As a bunch of us worked to reinforce the wall with makeshift sandbags on our side of the street — ever cognizant of the possibility of cars upstream being washed down into our path — we watched the sand wall on the other side of the street completely wash away. When I left, our stopgap levee was still holding.
This is just what I saw. Elsewhere, precious lives have been tragically lost, and others have been dramatically saved. The National Guard is evacuating the nearby town of Lyons, which has become an island surrounded by floodwaters. And I fear worse news is yet to come from the vulnerable canyon communities upstream from Boulder.
Here’s what I think about what I’ve seen over the past two years in my home town: we have altered the climate so dramatically with polluting emissions that all bets are off as far as knowing what the weather will do from here on in. The age of weather weirding has arrived. If the weather-related disasters in Boulder, across America, and around the world are telling us anything, it’s that humanity is in for a rough ride. Brace yourself.
Public domain photo by Sgt. Joseph K. VonNida / The National Guard.