40 years since the Big Thompson River disaster; do not forget

With 1000-year flooding having killed two in Ellicott City, Maryland, over the weekend, we should be reminded that delugic rains may increase with global warming.

And we should remember the Big Thompson River flood of July 31, 1976, and its victims.http://www.startribune.com/heating-up-this-week-raging-case-of-weather-amnesia/388762331/

Via the Paul Douglas on Weather blog at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (one of America’s great newspapers):

[Thunderhead that produced a slow-moving, and consquently more catastrophic deluge in the headwaters of the Big Thompson River, Colorado, on July 31, 1976.]

[Thunderhead that produced a slow-moving, and consquently more catastrophic deluge in the headwaters of the Big Thompson River, Colorado, on July 31, 1976.]

The Big Thompson Disaster: Reverberations of a Flash Flood, 40 Years Later. Dr. Jeff Masters has the post at WunderBlog: “What began as a celebratory Saturday in the mountains ended in tragedy 40 years ago this weekend, when a catastrophic flash flood ripped through the narrow Big Thompson Canyon of Colorado’s Front Range. A total of 144 people were killed on that Saturday evening, July 31, 1976–the eve of the 100th anniversary of Colorado’s statehood. On just about any summer weekend, the canyons northwest of Denver are packed with vacationers and day-trippers. With the state’s centennial falling on this particular weekend, the mood was especially festive, and the weather seemed no more threatening than on many other summer days. Forecasts through the day called for a 40% to 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms, but there was no particular concern about flood risk. Only a few hours later, critical gaps in weather data, communication, and public awareness had teamed up with a slow-moving deluge to create a true disaster–one that’s had a noteworthy influence on how we deal with flash floods today….”

Image credit: NOAA.

Hiking in the area recently, in a different canyon, I reflected on the tremendous changes in weather forecasting in the past 40 years. A lot of warnings about flash floods, and paths to climb up the canyon in emergencies. Plus, we had constant weather updates. Big Thompson was just one of several flood disasters in the 1970s, Masters notes. It’s worth reading his full post.

139 bodies were recovered from the flood, but many other bodies were never recovered. People died from injuries of being tossed about by the flood, and colliding with rocks and trees. Few died of drowning.

How do we prepare to survive and avoid such disasters in the future?



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