SOURCE: National Hydrologic Warning Council

National Hydrologic Warning Council

October 16, 2013 11:00 ET

Flood Warning Systems Saved Lives During Colorado Flood

FOLSOM, CA--(Marketwired - Oct 16, 2013) - Nearly 40 years ago, more than 140 people lost their lives and 150 more were injured in a devastating flash flood in the Big Thompson Canyon. Epic flooding returned to Colorado's Front Range in September, but with dramatically different results because the region has committed to a different outcome.

Since the Big Thompson Canyon tragedy, Front Range communities have improved floodplain management policy and invested in flood control structures, public education, emergency preparedness, and flood warning system technologies. These technologies are providing up-to-the-minute information needed to trigger effective flood response.

In the September 2013 flood, a series of storms dumped as much as 15 inches of rain in four days along a 200-mile stretch of mountain canyons and communities from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. Rivers and streams quickly jumped their banks.

Damages to homes, businesses, and infrastructure are severe. Economic losses may exceed $2 billion. While it is unfortunate that nine people lost their lives, this is far fewer than the 140 lost in Big Thompson Canyon while the September 2013 event covered a much larger area.

What has changed?

Hundreds of rainfall and water level gauges now guard the Colorado Front Range; instantly reporting storm conditions to flood forecasters, emergency managers, local TV and radio stations, and affected residents.

"The region's monitoring and warning systems were up to the task," says Dr. David Curtis, President of the National Hydrologic Warning Council. "Rain and water level gauges automatically reported on the developing storm." These gauges, National Weather Service Doppler radar, computer models of local watersheds and weather forecasters helped officials precisely track the most dangerous conditions. Emergency managers used the information to warn threatened neighborhoods and initiate life-saving evacuations.

"Early warnings and evacuations are now credited for saving hundreds of lives in Colorado -- all because local communities invested in a different result," Dr. Curtis added.

Today, many communities across the country have local flood warning systems. Many more are needed.

The National Hydrologic Warning Council ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting emergency and environmental management officials by providing expert advice on the use of real-time hydrologic information from automated data systems.

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