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Flash Flood Week along the Front Range of Colorado, Wyoming . . . a look back at the Fort Collins 1997 Flood, the motivation for CoCoRaHS

Twenty-four years ago, the Fort Collins Flood took place this week. One side of Fort Collins received over 14" of rainfall (almost a years worth of precipitation).  Just five miles to the east only 2" had fallen.  The flood claimed five lives and did millions of dollars in damage.   It would be the motivation behind starting CoCoRaHS in 1998.  During the same week twenty-two years earlier the Big Thompson Flood swept through the Big Thompson Canyon claiming 144 lives on July 31, 1976. In 1985 a flash flood on August 1st dumped 7.87 inches of rain in a 3-hour span on Cheyenne, Wyoming resulting in 12 fatalities.  And just recently, last week to be exact, a flash flood claimed three lives as it swept along the Poudre River in the Poudre Canyon, just west of Fort Collins.  

Please report heavy rainfall when it occurs in your area.  Just file a signifiant weather report . . . it can help provide valuable information to the National Weather Service that can lead to warnings which may save lives.

Below is a a timeline provided by Colorado State Univesity of the July 1997 Fort Collins flood:

July 27, 1997

5 p.m. – After a mostly dry July, torrents of heavy rain begin northwest of Laporte. The storm expands southward into Horsetooth Reservoir.

6:30 p.m. – Heavy rain mostly stops. The air remains humid.

Midnight – Southeasterly winds behind a cold front push more moist air against the eastern foothills.

 July 28, 1997

1 a.m. – Steady rain develops, at first limited to a narrow band along the foothills.

2 a.m. – Rainfall rates in excess of 1 inch per hour develop northwest of Laporte. Residents wake up to standing water.

8 a.m. – After early morning letup of overnight rains, a brief, soaking shower catches Fort Collins morning commuters. To the northwest, major flooding begins around Laporte.

Noon – Skies remain cloudy over the Fort Collins area Monday afternoon. Dewpoint temperatures hover in the low 60s.

6 p.m. – A first wave of heavy showers moves into Fort Collins. Rain increases with hourly accumulations of close to 1 inch in southwest Fort Collins.

7 p.m. – Rainfall rates approach 3 inches per hour, according to a rain gauge at the CSU Foothills Campus.

8 p.m. – Flooding of homes and streets in Fort Collins intensifies. The water is 2 feet deep at Elizabeth and Shields streets. Flow rate along Elizabeth is comparable to that of the Poudre River.

8:30 p.m. – Extremely heavy rain falls locally over a few square miles approximately at the corner of Drake Road and Overland Trail. Rainfall totals for a 90-minute period exceed 5 inches. The heaviest-hit area includes the Spring Creek watershed.

9:30 p.m. – The National Weather Service issues a flash flood warning for Larimer County.

10:30 p.m. – Floodwater bursts open the Lory Student Center’s west doors.

11 p.m. – The water level in a nearby mobile home park rises 5 feet in 3 minutes. Five people die. A train derails. A gas leak causes an explosion south of Prospect Road and east of the railroad tracks.