By John Lawrence
Boulder, CO –The rain began to fall on Monday, September 9. Experts would ultimately call it a 1,000-year rain and a 100-year flood. By Thursday September 12, Little James Creek began ripping buildings from their foundations and sending roofs plunging into basements. Roads were closed and still the rain kept coming.
In the city of Boulder, Boulder Creek was roaring at a rate of 3,104 cubic feet per second, according to Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner. Two days before, it had been flowing at a leisurely 54 cfs.
At 1:40 AM on Thursday University of Colorado officials issued a text alert ordering faculty and staff residents living in university housing near Boulder Creek to evacuate. Soon, CU and the Boulder Valley School District would both announce they were closing down.
An evacuation order in the North St. Vrain Canyon in Lyons forced residents from their homes about 2:30 AM.
The National Weather Service (NWS) forecast for Thursday read in part:
“NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DENVER/BOULDER CO … 941 AM MDT THU SEP 12 2013/ UPDATE/MAJOR FLOODING/FLASH FLOODING EVENT UNDERWAY AT THIS TIME WITH BIBLICAL RAINFALL AMOUNTS REPORTED IN MANY AREAS IN/NEAR THE FOOTHILLS — THINGS ARE NOT LOOKING GOOD.”
At the NWS data collection point near the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as of 6 PM it showed a staggering 9.08 inches of rain had fallen since 6 PM Wednesday. It was the highest one-day total on record for Boulder, swamping the previous record of 4.80 inches on July 31, 1919.
On Sunday September 15 there was a final downpour and then it seemed to be over.
Within a few days, more than 7,600 county residents would be applying for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But the rain returned by mid-morning Sunday, and soon it was coming down once again in sheets, grounding rescue helicopters and pushing area homeowners to the brink. Rain persisted well into the afternoon before it finally relented.
It would rain just a bit more Monday morning, bringing Boulder’s precipitation total for the year so far to 30.14 inches, topping the city’s record for an entire year, which had been 29.93 inches in 1995 with three months yet to go. From Sept. 9 through Sept. 16, the storm dropped 17.15 inches of rain on Boulder. Boulder’s average yearly precipitation (rain and melted frozen precipitation) is 20.68 inches. The record is especially noteworthy since before Sept. 9, Boulder, along with much of eastern Colorado, was still mired in long term drought conditions
Miraculously, Boulder would learn that no one in the city limits was killed.
Boulder County has been designated a Federal Disaster Area. By September 20, 7 people were confirmed dead, 2000 homes had been destroyed and 17,500 damaged and 1,200+ people were unaccounted for according to Colo. Office of Emergency Management. More than 200 miles of state roads and 50 bridges were affected. The storm required the largest US rescue airlift since Hurricane Katrina.
According to numerous scientific studies, extreme rainfall has become more frequent across the U.S. during the past several decades in part due to manmade global warming. Increasing air and ocean temperatures mean that the air is generally carrying more water vapor than it used to, and this moisture can be tapped by storm systems to yield rain or snow extremes. In addition, shifts in weather patterns may be contributing to an uptick in some types of extreme events, although this is an area of ongoing scientific research.
Among the records broken were:
1-day all-time record: 9.08” (231 mm) – nearly double that of the previous wettest day: 4.8″ (122 mm) on July 31, 1919)
- 2-day all-time record: 11.52″ (295 mm)
- 7-day all-time record: 16.9″ (429 mm)
- Five of those 7 days set daily rainfall records
- One-month record 17.18 inches, most of of which fell during one week (previous all-time monthly record: 9.59″ in May of 1995)
- Wettest September on record (previous wettest September: 5.5” (140 mm) in 1940)
- One-year record has been broken (previous wettest year: 29.93” (760 mm) in 1995)
On September 15, two powerful storms battered the country simultaneously, Hurricane Ingrid on its east coast and Tropical Storm Manuel on its west coast.
Flash floods and mudslides resulted in the deaths of more than 170 people. Many of those deaths occurred in Acapulco’s home state of Guerrero. President Enrique Pena Nieto said “The sheer volume of earth that has virtually covered more than 40 homes there means that as of today, there is virtually no hope that we can find anyone alive” in La Pintada.
In the Pacific resort of Acapulco, roads became raging torrents, stranding some 40,000 tourists, including hundreds of Americans. Mud completely blocked the entrance to a main hillside tunnel that leads into the city as waist-deep flood waters at the city’s international airport prevented the tourists from leaving. During the inundation of heavy rain, 7.43 inches of rain alone fell on Acapulco in 24 hours.
Mexico looked to the Herculean task of rebuilding after a rare double onslaught of storms. Officials also began tallying the massive economic damage in a country where the growth forecast already was lowered drastically in August. Risk assessment company Evaluacion de Riesgos estimated the total cost could be comparable to the havoc wreaked in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, which swept through the Caribbean resort Cancun and the Yucatan peninsula, causing over $1.7 billion in damages.
An estimated 200,000 people were left homeless and nearly 60,000 were evacuated because of the flooding and landslides in the wake of the storms that socked this country of 112 million. Road repairs alone will cost about $3 billion, the transport ministry said. The flooding has also damaged some 43,000 schools – or about 20 percent of the total number in Mexico.
Mexico had not been hit simultaneously by two powerful storms like this since 1958, the National Weather Service said. Guerrero state was the hardest hit, with its Pacific resort of Acapulco left cut off after the two roads to Mexico City were covered by landslides on September 15. Tourists were stranded for five days. Thousands finally packed into cars and buses on Friday, September 20, after authorities reopened road links to the capital. Around 62,000 tourists eventually managed to leave the city, about half by road and half in special airlift planes.