Boulder Floods: Is Climate Change the Cause?

With Boulder, Colorado and surrounding areas suffering from historic flooding, is climate change causing the conditions necessary for this flood?

Today, massive rainstorms in Colorado are causing historic floods in the area of Boulder, causing several mountain towns to be cut off from the rest of the region, leaving three dead.  The floods, which started about a couple days ago, led to notices of "walls of water" coming down the Rocky Mountains, damaging roads and homes.  Most of the city of Boulder itself is underwater, with the local Boulder Creek now a river.  While emergency services struggle to contain the mess, the question of what is causing the floods is brought up.  After several months of drought conditions, along with one of the dryest winters on record, the possibility that climate change is causing the drought and ensuing floods is being brought to the table.



Before the rains came down in Boulder, the area was suffering through a drought.  Despite an unusually snowfall-heavy April, Boulder remained in drought status, which had begun a few years ago and intensified during during 2012, one of the driest years on record.  Back in July 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared Boulder County and 37 other counties in the state a drought disaster area.  The problem with the drought is that it reduced vegetation, worsened by wildfires in the region.  Consequently, the lack of vegetation meant that any rain would have few places to go, thus triggering floods.

More than likely, Boulder's drought spell is connected in some ways to rising temperatures around the world.  In 2012 alone, Boulder broke high temperature records nine times, without recording any record low temperatures.  The lack of precipitation may have been caused by the high temperatures, which did not allow precipitation to develop over the Rocky Mountains.



Consequently, Boulder residents have to take the brunt of the flooding.  Given that most of the water in the Boulder area are made up of small creeks, the infrastructure in the region is not designed to handle mass flooding, unlike areas next to larger rivers.  Currently, the weather outlook is unlikely to improve immediately:  The storms in Boulder are likely to continue into this weekend, before letting up starting Monday, according to current forecasts.