Be prepared for flash flooding in Colorado

May 1, 2024
Heavy rain showers can cause flash flooding in Colorado, damaging communities and infrastructure. Be sure to have a plan to prepare for flash flooding. Photo: Getty Images.

Throughout its history, Colorado has experienced deadly, catastrophic flooding that has taken lives, ruined homes and businesses and destroyed state and local infrastructure.

Flash flooding in Colorado’s mountains, especially in the vicinity of burn scars, is dangerous because the vegetation that normally absorbs water is gone. During high snowmelt or heavy rain showers, water rushes downhill, creating flash flooding, mudslides and debris flow.

UCHealth Today spoke with Tom Buettner, director of emergency preparedness for UCHealth, for advice on how to prepare and stay safe during flooding.

“Being aware, planning and preparing for potential flooding, and avoiding flood waters is the best way to keep your family safe,’’ Buettner said.

Make a plan before flooding occurs

According to the National Weather Service, individuals and families should prepare for potential flooding by:

  • Creating a communications plan with family and friends.
  • Having an emergency kit on hand.
  • Signing up for emergency notifications from local governments.
  • Preparing your family/pets for evacuation.
  • Charging electronics so you don’t run out of battery.

Flood safety

Having access to reliable information is key.

“Make sure you are paying attention to local news stations or reliable information on the Internet,’’ Buettner said. “Flooding can happen very quickly, so it’s important to have timely awareness of what’s happening around you.’’

If you hear of potential flash flooding near you, follow guidance from the National Weather Service:

  • Get to higher ground.
  • Obey evacuation orders.
  • Practice electrical safety – don’t go into a basement or any room if water is covering electrical outlets or if cords are submerged.
  • Don’t walk or drive through flood waters.
  • Do not drive around barricades.

Turn around, don’t drown

More than half of all lives lost in flooding occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. Many more people die when people walk into flood water or near flood waters.

Often, the force of water carries cars and people downstream. A person can be swept away in only 6 inches of water, and a car, truck or SUV can be carried away in only 12 inches of water, according to the National Weather Service.

In many floods, roadways collapse from the weight of the water, making it extremely unsafe to drive on flooded roadways.

Know the meaning of specific terms during potential for a flash flooding.

The Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management recommends that people become familiar with specific terms to properly prepare for a potential flood:

  • Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground, and listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring. Seek higher ground on foot immediately.

How do I find out about areas that are prone to flooding?

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provide updates on the state’s Flood Threat Portal to Colorado residents. Issued at 11 a.m. daily, the portal provides a daily assessment of flood potential across the state, a 24-hour precipitation map, and a 7-to-15-day flood threat outlook (updated Mondays and Thursdays). You can also follow the Flood Threat Bulletin on Twitter @COFloodUpdates for updates.

How do you know if your home or business is in a flood zone or flood plane?

The FEMA Map Service Center has a convenient tool to help residents make this determination: FEMA Flood Map Service Center | Search By Address

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.