Boulder County, Colorado is bracing for up to four more inches of rain Sunday afternoon, a forecast that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says would magnify the problems rescuers are already facing in trying to reach stranded residents.
Hickenlooper said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that the forecast of more rain in a region that’s received more than 14 inches in the last week is troubling because the ground is already saturated with water, making it easy for more rain to lead to even more flooding. So far, rescuers have moved 2,000 people out of Boulder, but 500 are still missing and at least four have been killed. This week’s rain has already washed away roads leading into smaller valley regions, Hickenlooper said, and more rainfall would mean rescuers would have a hard time reaching stranded residents by air.
“There are many, many homes that have been destroyed,” Hickenlooper said. “A number have been collapsed and we haven’t been in them yet. So we’re still dealing with that. How do we save lives first?”
The rains started Monday in Boulder county, and from Wednesday through Friday, more than half a year’s worth of rain fell on the region, with 24-hour rainfall amounts of between 8 and 10 inches — enough, according to Climate Central, to classify the storm as a one in 1,000 year event, meaning there’s a 0.1 percent chance that a similar flood could happen in a given year. On Saturday, in one area of southeastern Denver, 1.73 inches of rain fell in less than 30 minutes. The National Weather Service called the rainfall “biblical,” and multiple rainfall records in the state have been broken, including wettest month ever recorded in Boulder.
“This is a heck of a storm,” Hickenlooper said Sunday. “If this had been snow, we would have had close to 15 feet of snow if it were a cold day. It’s a lot of precipitation.”
Hickenlooper said the federal government has been “incredibly responsive” to the disaster. The U.S. Transportation Department is providing $5 million in emergency funds to help the state repair roads and bridges, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told Hickenlooper earlier this week that was “just the beginning” of federal assistance. But the state’s cleanup costs are likely to be steep — Hickenlooper said earlier this week that road and bridge damage was extreme, with entire roadbeds washed away and bridges missing. Boulder county alone is expected to need $150 million to repair 100 to 150 miles of roadway and up to 30 bridges — a repair bill that’s “10 to 15 times our annual budget,” the county’s transportation director told CNN.
As we said earlier this week, no one weather event can be definitively linked to climate change. As Climate Central notes, it will take months of research before climate scientists can determine whether climate change played a role in making the Boulder flood more likely to occur. However, previous research has shown that extreme precipitation events are likely to become more common as the Earth warms, and the draft National Climate Assessment report released in this January found extreme precipitation events have already become more common across the U.S.