The latest cases of flash flooding took place miles from the Waldo Canyon or Black Forest burn areas in streams that only fill during rare downpours. The incidents — and a spate of others over the last couple of weeks — underscore the dangerous way that seemingly innocuous waterways can turn to deadly torrents, officials said.
“It has rained so much over the past few weeks, it won’t take lots for the creek beds to overflow,” said Tommy Smith, the Colorado Springs Fire Department’s interim chief. “Even if it rains up north, the water will eventually get here (the city).”
The threat of flash flooding has always been a part of life in Manitou Springs, which sits at the mouth of Williams and Waldo canyons. The Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 made the danger much worse, as residents discovered this year.
On Friday, John Collins, 53, drowned when he was swept away in floodwaters on U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs.
On Tuesday, that danger was apparent again, when state transportation officials closed U.S. 24 as another set of storms rolled over the region. No flooding was reported in Manitou Springs.
The latest fatal incident away from a burn area happened Monday, when Rose was swept downstream while apparently seeking cover from the deluge under a bridge.
Rose sought the bridge while taking a walk near Radiant Church and Wold Avenue, off North Academy Boulevard and Maizeland Road, according to Sunny Smaldino, Colorado Springs Fire Department spokeswoman.
Her mother, Kristine Hammes, told police that the teen called asking for help and she had instructed her daughter to seek shelter from the storm. Hammes said she was on her way to pick Rose up.
It was the last time they spoke.
Rose’s parents reported her missing at 5:45 p.m. and four hours later, firefighters found a shirt matching her clothing north of Galley Road. Shortly before midnight, firefighters found her body under a bridge at Platte Avenue, west of Wooten Road.
Shooks Run normally doesn’t have enough water in it for a person to swim. Friday’s downpour changed that in a hurry, and a man nearly lost his life.
A witness said the man was clinging to the middle of a bridge, in water up to his waist.
The witness grabbed an extension cord and lowered it to the man to hang on to while his wife called 911. The witness and a neighbor held onto the extension cord to help keep the man from being swept away.
Firefighters hoisted the man — wearing a backpack and soaked clothes — to safety using a ladder truck. Firefighters say he was uninjured.
“This is why you gotta stay out of the ditches,” said Colorado Springs Fire Department battalion chief Mike Wittry.
Last week, another downpour caused a bridge on Hanover Road near Meridian Road to wash out — resulting in an estimated $70,000 in damages.
Street flooding also has been common during downpours along Marksheffel Road.
“It’s something that we’ve seen in the past, it’s something we will see in the future,” said Jeff Besse, Colorado Springs’ stormwater specialist. “We’ve been in a drought for so long that people forget that we have the potential for large amounts of rain and potential flash flooding when this does happen.”
The flash flooding comes as the region deals with an unusually rainy monsoon season.
From July 1 — which is typically the start of the Pikes Peak region’s monsoon season — to Aug. 12, 6.85 inches of rain has fallen at the Colorado Springs Airport, said Nolan Doesken, climatologist at Colorado State University.
The airport has received more rain in the same time span only four other years since 1948, he said.
In addition, lower temperatures than last year have helped the ground retain moisture, he said.
So far in August, for example, Colorado Springs’ average temperature has been 68.6 degrees — 5 degrees cooler than the same time period last year, Doesken said.
“It’s just been persistent,” Doesken said. “There just hasn’t been many breaks once the pattern got set up.”
Gazette reporter Dave Philipps
contributed to this story.
Flash floods: Get out of way, go uphill
Flash flooding is the most common natural hazard in Colorado Springs and even if a storm begins in the mountains, the runoff will eventually reach the city through the Fountain Creek Watershed, said Jeff Besse, Colorado Springs’ stormwater specialist. The headwaters of Fountain Creek begin west of the city and near Woodland Park, part of it discharging downtown.
“Of course, the burn scar areas are our biggest concerns, but the water will make its way to the city,” Besse said. “Most of the time, people worry about the west part of town, and Monday, the storm pounded the east side of the city. It’s impossible to gauge where the rains will hit and that’s why safety is top priority.”
There are 56 drainage systems in Colorado Springs, said Besse, and building fences to keep people out of all of them would be impossible. Proactive campaigns such as “Ditch Playing in Ditches” (learn more about the program at http:
/bit.ly/14wbmKV) have been among the city’s most useful tools in educating the public and encouraging children to make wise choices.
Still, tragedies happen. Roaring waters rush downstream and take everything in their path — debris, mud, even people. The simple choice of where to find shelter can make the difference between life and death.
“With floods and storms, the rule is always go uphill, never down,” Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino said.