Sudden showers in Rifle last week trap traffic at roundabout, flood Centennial Park playground

Rifle Recreation Program Manager Kendrick Robinson works on flood mitigation efforts at Centennial Park after it flooded last week.
Kyle Mills/Courtesy

Rifle typically receives 6.7 inches of rainfall by this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. So far between Jan. 1 and Monday, the city has received 11.54 inches — nearly 5 inches above average.

Indicators show rainfall ranged from 1.07 inches to 1.38. Only thing was, this was all received in about an hour last week.

Just after 8 p.m. Thursday, the city had a laundry list of issues to mitigate.

The roundabout at south Rifle flooded, trapping smaller vehicles.

The playground at Centennial Park received between 2.5-3 feet of water flow, washing away its dirt base and rubber matting then temporarily closing down the park, according to Rifle City Manager Tommy Klein.

The bottom floor of Rifle City Hall had standing water, which has closed down this portion of the building until Monday.

A pool of flood water reaches the top of the stage at Centennial Park last week.
Kyle Mills/Courtesy

East 16th Street near White River Avenue also experienced some infrastructure damage. Here, Klein said water overflowed out of a roadway manhole due to a storm water pipe clogged by grout and drywall debris. This event washed out roadbase.

A quick estimate shows the city may need to spend $40,000-$50,000 for 16th Street repairs.

“It’s just an unusual rain event,” Klein said.

Meanwhile, Rifle Police officers helped unlock storm drains on Airport Road. The city’s wastewater treatment plant also saw a significant increase of both water and silt. 

As a cherry on top, a car slipped into Rifle Creek and got trapped underneath a railroad bridge near U.S. Highway 6 on Thursday. As of Wednesday — six days after the rain event — the car is still there.

“We’re going to jet out our storm water systems, which we’ve already started doing, making sure they’re cleaned up,” Klein said. “We’ve already cleared up or removed significant debris from culverts in our area.”

Klein has been trying to contact the railroad for days now, asking them to remove the debris and the car from underneath their bridge. 

“We filed a report with Union Pacific’s police department online,” Klein said. “They replied in an email indicating that they received a complaint and that we will not receive any further correspondence from the company.”

A car stuck in a portion of Rifle Creek that flows underneath a railroad bridge. The car got stuck after Rifle’s flooding last week. It’s still there.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Tom Renwick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Thursday’s quick rush of rain was a remnant of tropical storm Herold. Herold was a huge area of high pressure expansion from the Gulf of Mexico. It hit landfall in Texas on Aug. 22 — two days prior to Thursday.

“It went across Texas, moved into Arizona, and then just dimensionally moved into our neck of the woods,” Renwick said.

Renwick said since there is so much moisture on the Western Slope, anything that develops convective-wise, thunderstorms drop higher amounts of rain. Many counties in eastern Utah and the Western Slope were hit with heavy rains Thursday.

Rifle workers clear out remnants of flooding at Centennial Park last week.
Kyle Mills/Courtesy

“That was probably one of the busiest days I’ve had in awhile. There was something everywhere,” Renwick said. “We kind of expected to hear that from Rifle because we were just watching going, ‘Holy moly.’

“We had to close Grizzly Creek and we got a couple of reports of flooding and maybe a little bit of mud, but nothing too crazy. I mean, all in all, we kind of lucked out.”

Rifle wasn’t like Cortez on Thursday, Renwick added. The southwestern Colorado city received 2 inches of rain in one hour.

Klein said the city is currently doing infrastructure repairs and will likely have full cost estimates for damages within the next two weeks. The city has filed claims with its insurer, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, to cover damages sustained at City Hall and Centennial Park.

By the numbers…

Inches of rainfall received each month in Rifle since January 2022. The measurements, provided by the National Weather Service, are recorded at the Rifle Garfield County Airport.
January: .01
February: .09
March: .45
April: .49
May: 1.2
June: .9
July: .78
August: .66
September: 2.42
October: 2.69
November: .79
December: 1.93
Total: 12.41 (yearly average: 11.98 inches)
January: 1.9
February: 1.15
March: 2.49
April: 1.4
May: 1.37
June: 1.38
July: .52
August: 1.33
Total this year: 11.54

The aftermath of flooding at Centennial Park in Rifle last week.
Kyle Mills/Courtesy

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