Lessons From the Boulder Flood


What lessons did I learn beyond the 24 news cycle portrayal of catastrophe, rescue, human tragedy, uplifting community, political photo-ops, disaster relief, and oblivion?

Lesson 1The national media is factually unreliable on the ground.  I was in Dallas on business when the flood hit and flew back in the middle of the storm.  From the national news I had determined that there was no way to get to my house.  What I discovered that night using Facebook, Twitter, and the Denver Post website was most roads were intact and passable to my house.

No, Dillon Road at Hwy 287 did not collapse.  The access road to the quarry did collapse, but that endless loop of a pickup in the stream was just drama not information.

Boulder is both a city and a county.  A huge county which is roughly 1/3 in the mountains above 7,000 feet, 1/3 urban, 1/3 rural.  Parts of north Boulder city are flooded with lots of water damage in basements.  But the helicopters lifting people off roofs were in the County of Boulder, mostly north near Lyons or in the ravines of the 1/3 of the county in the mountains.

That national news never took the time to learn the geography and their reporting was inaccurate and misleading.  One cable news anchor kept saying that the roaring Big Thompson was flooding directly into the City of Boulder.  Even a casual google search shows it drains well north of the city.

Lesson 2Natural disasters are random – the opposite of Jason Bourne.  Their targets are a matter of chance.  We lived through Hurricane Isabel when we lived in Maryland.  We had no damage.  Our neighbor had a hundred foot tall tree fall through the center of her house cutting it in two and stopping a few inches above her child’s sleeping face.




The two pictures above show where the side of a foothill released into the Lee Hill Road drainage, mixed with the rushing water into a plasma, that wrecked the below neighborhood.




The mud plasma had come down a ditch and the road into one neighborhood, but on the uphill side of the road and ditch there was no damage.  Ten feet uphill made the difference.



You can see the mudline in the road and the undamaged neighborhood above it.

Why did that hill in the open space release and not the hill in the open space above our neighborhood?  Part of charity is recognizing the universal risk of random.

Lesson 3 It matters where you live.  If you chose a drainage for the babbling stream, losing your house is a long term game of chance.  If you live off a downhill road in the curve of a bend, that water is going to miss the bend, and flow into your basement.  I saw countless flooded homes in older neighborhoods of the city high above streams, but sitting on the bend of a road that channeled a years worth of rain inside.  If you live in the mountains, you better have canned foods because your house may survive but access is gone.

Lesson 4Give to local charities not national charities, hotlines, and television fundraisers.  I have no idea where that money goes and I have never met a disaster victim who received any funds they traced to any national anything.  I know that if you give money to the Community Food Share in Boulder for flood relief it will get to victims.  If you give to national charities it may go to a good cause, but it passes into a lot of diverting hands before it gets to the people who need help right now.

Lesson 5 –  Thank a first responder and the military.  Remember them and their charities not just now, but in the future when the crisis is in your neighbor’s county.  In the Washington budget battles remember during the disaster nobody cares about ideology. These assets save lives.

When the weather lifted on Saturday and Sunday before the final deluge, the National Guard was in the air.  They were flying in low cloud cover over our house all day both days – a constant stream of Blackhawks, huge Chinooks, and other helicopters heading north empty and coming south with people.

Selfless sacrifice for others is not about money, but money buys the tools.



Thank you to everyone who asked about our family.  Remember all the other families in the coming weeks and months, particularly this winter.


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