Spring Creek Flood (July 28, 1997) anniversary: Revisit the deadly night — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

Coyote Gulch’s good friend had just sold his mobile home near Prospect Road and S. College Avenue in Fort Collins when the July 28, 1997 flood hit. The buyers were safe.

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Erin Udell). Here’s an excerpt:

Witnesses could hear yells for help, see trailers wash off their foundations and smell the propane that streaked the debris-filled floodwaters…

As July 28, 1997 ended and a new day began, Fort Collins was faced with a new city — one full of twisted debris, totaled cars and forever-changed families.

Twenty years later, walk through the events of that night with this timeline of the Spring Creek Flood. See how heavy rain turned a creek into a deadly river. Watch as a festival-like atmosphere — with people kayaking in the streets — gave way to a somber city the next morning. And revisit the places that were washed away and rebuilt.

How it started — Heavy rainfall pounded parts of Fort Collins, with isolated storms wetting the city on July 27, 1997. The following day, it was about to get worse…

Photo shows rescuers at Coyote Gulch’s good friend’s mobile home near Prospect Road and S. College Avenue in Fort Collins when the July 28, 1997 flood hit. The buyers were safe.

Worries rise with water — What started as heavy rain and minor flooding took a turn as the night of July 28 wore on. With a sprinkling of students, staff and facilities workers on campus at CSU, many witnessed unprecedented damages.

The night turns deadly — “It was a night of terror at a trailer park,” televisions across Colorado boomed as footage from a 9News broadcast showed the hellish landscape along Spring Creek. Fires erupted, trailers washed off their foundations and residents clung to trees as two mobile home parks became targets for the devastation.

Fort Collins, Spring Creek flood July 28, 1997

Here’s a timeline of the flood from the The Colorado State University website:

July 27, 1997
5 p.m. – After a mostly dry July, torrents of heavy rain begin northwest of Laporte. The storm expands southward into Horsetooth Reservoir.

6:30 p.m. – Heavy rain mostly stops. The air remains humid.

Midnight – Southeasterly winds behind a cold front push more moist air against the eastern foothills.

July 28, 1997
1 a.m.
– Steady rain develops, at first limited to a narrow band along the foothills.

2 a.m. – Rainfall rates in excess of 1 inch per hour develop northwest of Laporte. Residents wake up to standing water.

8 a.m. – After early morning letup of overnight rains, a brief, soaking shower catches Fort Collins morning commuters. To the northwest, major flooding begins around Laporte.

Noon – Skies remain cloudy over the Fort Collins area Monday afternoon. Dewpoint temperatures hover in the low 60s.

6 p.m. – A first wave of heavy showers moves into Fort Collins. Rain increases with hourly accumulations of close to 1 inch in southwest Fort Collins.

7 p.m. – Rainfall rates approach 3 inches per hour, according to a rain gauge at the CSU Foothills Campus.

8 p.m. – Flooding of homes and streets in Fort Collins intensifies. The water is 2 feet deep at Elizabeth and Shields streets. Flow rate along Elizabeth is comparable to that of the Poudre River.

8:30 p.m. – Extremely heavy rain falls locally over a few square miles approximately at the corner of Drake Road and Overland Trail. Rainfall totals for a 90-minute period exceed 5 inches. The heaviest-hit area includes the Spring Creek watershed.

9:30 p.m. – The National Weather Service issues a flash flood warning for Larimer County.

10:30 p.m. – Floodwater bursts open the Lory Student Center’s west doors.

11 p.m. – The water level in a nearby mobile home park rises 5 feet in 3 minutes. Five people die. A train derails. A gas leak causes an explosion south of Prospect Road and east of the railroad tracks.

July 30, 1997
Summer classes are back in session on campus.

August 1997
Fall classes at CSU begin on time.

September 1997
A picnic is added to President Al Yates’ annual fall address to thank the campus and community for its resilience in the wake of the disaster. The tradition continues today.

Read more about the 1997 flood.

(This documentary was created by the university to document the 1997 flood and recovery efforts.)

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