Panoramic Image of Flooded Streets

Did you know just six inches of rapidly moving water can knock a person down?

Flooding typically occurs when prolonged rain falls over several days, when intense rain falls over a short period of time, or when debris buildup causes a river or stream to overflow onto the surrounding area. Flooding can also result from the failure of a water control structure, such as a levee or dam.

Since 1900, floods have taken more than 10,000 lives in the United States. Floods are one of the most common hazards nationwide, however, not all floods are alike. Some floods develop slowly, while others such as flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes without visible signs of rain. Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting multiple states. Flood-prone areas have been identified in 267 cities and towns and in all of Colorado‚Äôs 64 counties. Colorado is susceptible to wildfires, which also makes our state susceptible to flooding in heavily eroded burn areas. It accumulates quicker than the soil can absorb it. What makes flooding exceptionally difficult for individuals is that flood damage is not covered by traditional homeowners' insurance policies. This can leave the unprepared exceptionally vulnerable to financial hardship following a flood event. There is a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance goes into effect, so don't delay.

Additionally, familiarizing yourself with the terms below may help with what to expect so you can properly prepare.

  • 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, 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.

Explore the information below to learn what you can do to prepare your home for a flood, including how to get flood insurance.

Before A Flood
  • Get flood insurance if you are in a flood-prone area. Visit FloodSmart.gov to find out what your flood risk is, get cost estimates and find an agent who sells flood insurance. Keep in mind that there is a 30-day waiting before flood insurance goes into effect, so if you are at risk, get insurance now.
  • Get prepared by making sure your family (including pets)has a 72-hour kit. A 72-hour kit should contain, at a minimum, drinking water, non-perishable food, first aid, blankets, a radio and a flashlight. These items should be stored in an easily accessible, portable, waterproof container. Additionally, be sure to have copies of important documents, such as insurance information, ready to go.
  • Prepare your home. Make sure your sump pump is working, clear debris from gutters and downspouts, anchor any fuel tanks, raise electrical components and move furniture, valuables and important documents to a safe place.
  • Keep informed. Watch out for weather that could cause flash floods and make sure that you listen to the news so you are aware of flood danger in your area. Keep updated on road closures in case you need to evacuate. An inexpensive NOAA Weather Radio is also a great way to receive prompt alerts about threatening weather, including flash floods.
During A Flood
  • Keep informed. Listen to the television or radio or search the Internet for information and instructions.
  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to the upper floor.
  • If instructed to do so, turn off utilities at the main switches or valves.
  • Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are standing in water.
  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
  • Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.
  • Do not drive around a barricade. Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go the other way.
  • Be especially cautious driving at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
  • If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions.
After A Flood
  • Use local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire or relief organizations.
  • Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.
  • Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.
  • If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded, stay on firm ground. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings, there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Avoid floodwaters, water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.
  • Confirm the water supply is safe to drink. Listen for news reports to learn whether your community's water supply has been contaminated by the floodwaters. Remember to carry bottled drinking water and discard any food products that may have come in contact with floodwater.
  • Ventilate your home. Open all doors and windows to allow air to circulate and dry out your home. Dehumidify as soon as possible after a flood.
  • If salvageable, clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pit and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.
  • Contact your insurance agent to discuss claims.
  • If you hire cleanup or repair contractors, check references and be sure they are qualified to do the job. Be wary of people who drive through neighborhoods offering help in cleaning up or repairing your home as they may not be legitimate.
More Flood Information

References, Resources and More Information:

Flood: It Happened Here

The Big Thompson Canyon flood is known as one of the most deadly flash floods in Colorado's recorded history. It was the eve of Colorado's 100th anniversary of Statehood and thousands of people were enjoying the beauty and recreation of the mountain canyons, unaware of the unusual and unique atmospheric conditions that were occurring.

A thunderstorm lifted along the Front Range and began to dump heavy rain on the region at approximately 6 p.m. The storm remained stationary for more than three hours and dumped a foot of rain into the canyon. Eight inches of rain fell in one hour and turned the normally calm two-foot-deep trickle into a raging torrent of water 19 feet high. Sweeping 10-foot boulders in front of it, the wall of water sped down the canyon slope. The water moved so quickly that, even had Highway 34 not been washed out, the only avenue of escape was up the canyon walls.

The sudden flood that churned down the narrow Big Thompson Canyon scoured the river channel that night claimed the lives of 144 people, including two law enforcement officers trying to evacuate people in danger. There were also 250 reported injuries. The tragedy caused over $35 million in damages (in 1977 dollars) to 418 homes and businesses, automobiles, numerous bridges, paved and unpaved roads, power and telephone lines, and many other structures.

Road Destroyed by Flood Waters

Photos courtesy of the Colorado National Guard, FEMA/Steve Zumwalt and FEMA/Steve Zumwalt - Jamestown during September 2013 flood.