Monday, August 12, 2013

Deluge on the High Plains

Heading back to Denver today, the weather cooperated through Missouri and Kansas except for some brief, heavy rain east of Kansas City.  In fact, it was so calm in central Kansas that the Smoky Hills Wind Farm was in off mode; only one turbine in the massive complex was spinning, a spectacle that I have never encountered on my many trips across the Great Plains.

Then, as I entered Colorado, a wall of towering thunderstorms loomed to the west.  The rain held off until I reached Arriba but, as I descended to Limon, a torrential downpour ensued; since visibility was near zero, I pulled into a truck stop to wait out the storm.  Almost an hour later, the rain and light hail began to let up and I ventured onto the Interstate to resume my journey; I suspect at least 3-4 inches of precipitation had fallen during my stop.  Climbing toward the Palmer Divide, I saw massive streams of floodwater pouring down the hillsides, filling the gullies along the highway and threatening to flood across I-70.  Higher up, snow plows were removing hail accumulation from the Interstate but the streams of floodwater had diminished; nevertheless, their flow would soon add to the crisis near Limon, which sits along the southern base of the Palmer Divide ridge.  North of the Divide, flooding was minimal along the I-70 corridor.

As I mentioned in a recent post (see Colorado's Monsoon Season), monsoon fed thunderstorms often dump a lot of water in a short period of time.  Flash flooding from these storms is further intensified by hilly or mountainous terrain, especially where burn scars from recent wildfires are present; such has been the case in Manitou Springs, Colorado, this week.