Weather News

Jun 2, 2014 11:38 AM by Stephen Bowers

Deadly Pueblo Flash Flood Anniversary Tuesday

Friday June 3, 1921....

We did not have television, and weather information was hard to come by unless you could see a storm approaching. Even then, you only had a minutes-long warning of any potentially dangerous weather. Otherwise, people heard about dangerous weather after the fact, and sometimes days later.

We hear the phrase "it struck without warning" often. On this particular, the torrential rains that caused flash flooding in Pueblo County truly did strike without warning. It led to the worst flooding in Colorado's history up to that time, according to History.com.

People built levees to help prevent floods along the Arkansas River, which runs through Pueblo County and through downtown Pueblo. The levees collapsed, and reports suggest water rose to the second stories of buildings.

On June 3, 1921, a cloudburst capable of producing over half an inch of rain less than an hour occurred over Downtown Pueblo. Thirty miles to the north, the same thing was happening over Fountain Creek. The National Weather Service in Denver (then the U.S. Weather Bureau) said at least 6 inches of rain fell in three days beginning June 3. The Arkansas River swelled to 15 feet in just two hours, and the business district of Pueblo was under about 10 feet of water. Impacts from the flooding were felt from about 30 miles west of Pueblo all the way to the Kansas border along the Arkansas River. Much of Downtown Pueblo was destroyed.

Hundreds of people were killed. Some estimates of the death toll were as high as 1,500. NOAA says the flooding caused $25 million in damage. That is over $300 million when adjust to today's standards.

This photo from NOAA shows Main Street in Downtown Pueblo on June 3, the day after the flooding began. 

NOAA: "Once the floodwaters receded, the immense damage became all the more visible. The flood, which covered over 300 square miles, carried away over 600 homes and caused upwards of $25 million in damage at the time. By today's standards, that number would likely be $300 million or more. Railroad passenger coaches and freight cars were swept away in every direction or smashed into kindling. A fire even broke out in a lumberyard and burning lumber was carried throughout the city's streets by the flood. The floodwaters also carried away entire buildings and businesses. Many of the dead were likely carried far down river and never recovered."

NOAA says the military was brought in to help restore law and order. Three years later, in 1924, Pueblo was back to normal operations.

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