Boulder Flood, part 1: September 11

5:10PM: I walked home in the rain pondering what to eat for dinner.  I tossed my purse on the table and thought about how I hadn’t blogged in a while.  “But I don’t really have anything interesting to write about.”

Checked the mail.  Drove through the rain to the bank.  Fried an egg with some potatoes and mushrooms.  Sat down and browsed some fun sites on the internet.

8:00PM: I closed my laptop.  My windows were open (as they always are) and I had been listening to the rain.  I was amazed that we were on our third day of rain.  I was more amazed that I had been hearing the sounds of heavy rain for at least an hour.

I picked up my phone, noticed the battery had died, and plugged it into the charger.

I stood in my open front door watching the rain fall under streetlights, and watching the occasional college student hurry by, hands in pockets, head bent against the relentless fall of water.

I wanted to go out.  Be in the rain.  I shrugged into my raincoat – the one I only use a handful of days per year, because it doesn’t really rain in Colorado – and some old shoes that could get drenched.  I went to my garden, noting the overflowing rain gutters.  I picked a few tomatoes by the light of my flashlight, shoving them in my pockets.  The entire community garden was one big puddle.

It was still early in the evening and I had exhausted my entertainment, so I walked down to Boulder Creek and stood on the footbridge watching its power course beneath me.  It was high.  Very high.  And fast.  But I had seen it high many times before.  I walked further upstream and stood under a roadway bridge looking at the rapids, and water flowing viciously out of storm drains.

Drenched, I headed home where I ate my tomatoes and climbed into a hot bath with a library book.

8:45PM: Yawning, I picked up my laptop, ready to crawl into bed and watch some Bill Cosby standup on youtube before falling asleep.  I turned my phone back on to set the alarm for the next morning.  It beeped with a text message from a six-digit number, an emergency alert.

Flash flood warning until 10:45PM.  Move to upper levels or higher ground on food.  Don’t drive/cross Boulder Creek.  

It wasn’t the first time in the past six years there had been flood warnings.  And between a class I’d taken as an undergrad that discussed Boulder planning in depth and participating in emergency planning at work for ten years, I felt I was probably more versed than your average resident on Boulder flood risks and preparation.  No reason for panic, but also never something to be taken lightly.

Sigh.  Ten forty-five?  I groaned.  I wanted to go to sleep soon.  But I also knew that there was a possibility I could sleep through flood sirens.  If they went off.  I didn’t want to stay up for another two hours.

Damp laundry was spread around my living room because I didn’t have enough quarters for the dryer, and I scooped it back into my basket.  Taking a brief inventory of the contents, I also grabbed two pairs of pants from my closet.  Better safe than sorry.  Laptop and library book went on top.  As did my new running shoes.

Five minutes later found me in my work parking lot, pulled into a spot close to the building where the wifi could reach my laptop.  I opened two browser windows: Bill Cosby on youtube, and the Boulder Office of Emergency Management twitter page.

Every few minutes, a (1) would appear in the OEM browser tab and I’d click over to see the new update.

9:30PM: OEM twitter reports that the flash flood warning was extended until midnight.

Sighing, I closed my laptop and picked up my phone.

“Hey, Lynn?  We’re under flood watch here.  Can I come crash on your couch tonight (in Lafayette) so I don’t have to stay up listening for sirens?  Yeah?  Great.  I’ll head there right now.”

I had seen on Twitter that South Boulder Road was closed, and I knew Arapahoe would be dangerous being so close to the creek.  So I pulled onto Baseline.

Lots of puddles on the roads.  I drove slowly, mentally calculating my route.  I’d already heard that South Boulder Road was closed at Cherryvale.  And I guessed things would be bad with water flowing into Baseline rez.  Maybe take 55th up to Arapahoe and then east?  But there was that little creek by the golf course on 55th that I’d have to drive over.

Oy.  God, please help me.  There’s no way to get out of Boulder without multiple crossing creeks.

This thought was going through my head as I crossed Foothills.  I snapped back to see water covering the entire road.


Yes, I swore.  I’d just been blocked by water, and this wasn’t even a creek.  The left side was shallower, so I prayed and plowed through.  Not too deep, thankfully.  Still not safe, though.  I turned into the neighborhood to avoid the rest of the standing water in the intersection.

I was committed now to getting out of Boulder.  If things were this bad here, they were this bad at home next to the creek, too.  Nothing to do but continue on.

I wound my way through unfamiliar streets with water overflowing the gutters, trying to find my way out.  To 55th, to Arapahoe, to whatever.  There were no lights so I assumed power had gone out.  I turned down one street to see a family standing in their yard just looking, the water so high there was only room for one car to drive down the middle of the street.  I turned around and tried another street.  I prayed again, and swore again.

Finally, I saw a car zip past in the distance, fast enough to be on a main road of some kind.  Thank you, God!  It was Arapahoe, and the stoplight was black.  I began heading east again.  A few more stoplights out.  Just a handful of cars.

Approaching the road construction area, I saw that all of the traffic signs had been changed to flash STANDING WATER AHEAD.

Oh God, help me.  Help me.  Little cars plus standing water equals big trouble.  I thought of the hill ahead, right before the railroad tracks.  Just get to the hill.  Just get to the hill.  The hill will be safe.

“Where’s the standing water?” I kept saying aloud over and over.  Each time I passed one sign, I saw another ahead still flashing STANDING WATER AHEAD.  There were no cars in front of me, only cars behind; I didn’t like being the pioneer in this endeavor.  High beams on with almost no oncoming traffic, I spotted a few areas of water and was able to steer creatively to mostly avoid them.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I headed up the hill.  And I pulled over.  As one of the highest points in the eastern side of the city – a prime location for things like sunset watching – if any place qualified as “higher ground” it was here.  The entire city would be washed away before me.

I also knew on the other side of the hill was a low point below the railroad crossing.  And then a creek.  Neither of which I wanted to investigate in this car.

“Lynn?  I can’t make it there.  There is no [curse] way to get out of Boulder.  All the roads are flooded.  I’m in a safe place; I’m just going to hunker down in my car.”  She immediately offered to drive out and get me, and could not be dissuaded.

My windows fogged up as I watched rain stream down the windshield and listened to the radio.  Mom called to check on me and we listened to the emergency broadcast system.

The Halls showed up in their big SUV and I threw my hamper of possessions into their back seat.

The water under the railroad bridge was deep.  We plowed through and a wall of brown came over the windshield.  A few miles later the road was a lake.

10:30PM: I texted mom that I was safe in Lafayette and flipped open my computer and in the guest bedroom and let it try to connect to the wifi.  I updated my Facebook status to say that I was safe, just in case folks heard about all the rain and were worries about me.

Lynn asked when I wanted to go back tomorrow.  I asked to leave no later than 7:00 so I could change into work clothes.  She agreed, yawned, and went to bed.

Turning back to my computer, local news said that my apartment complex was being evacuated.  Wow, they’d never done that before.

10:50PM: Another emergency text message.  Flood warning extended until 12:45AM.

Boulder is hyper-vigilant about their flood preparedness.  But this time something might actually be happening.  My mind races.

Can’t fall asleep.

Mentally inventory the contents of my apartment.  It would be annoying to replace everything, but it was all just stuff.  Really, I wasn’t overly attached to any of it – maybe something that I had trained into myself from years of willingly living in a floodplain.

Can’t fall asleep.

I thought of my passport.  I had a Caribbean cruise scheduled for November.  I’d need my passport.  It should be in my desk drawer.  Twenty-four inches off the ground.  Would that be high enough to be spared?

Can’t fall asleep.

What am I going to find when I go back to Boulder tomorrow?

My ringing phone pulls me out of sleep: Unfamiliar number.  It’s my boss.  “Hey, so I won’t be in to work tomorrow.  Everything’s just washed away.  I’m going to have to deal with stuff here.”

Groggy, I thought about flooded roads washing out.  Just earlier that day he had been telling me where his new rental was, up one of the canyons on the side of a hill.

“At least you’re safe,” I said.

“For now.  I don’t know what I’m going to do about the four feet of mud on the first floor of my house.”

That woke me up a little.  “What?”

“The garage.  My car…”  He trailed off.  “I’m trapped.  I can’t get out.  I called 911.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Um.  Well.  Yeah.  I’ll take care of things (like canceling meetings).  Be safe.”

We disconnect and I look at my phone, which says 1:45AM and has two more emergency text messages from 1:00AM and 1:40AM about storms intensifying and evacuations.

Tomorrow is now today.

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One Response to Boulder Flood, part 1: September 11

  1. JayBeeNJ says:

    Wow! So scary! Stay safe out there and we’ll all hope for dry weather for you.

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