The Rocky Mountains are prone to natural disasters, too
September 2, 2005
Human suffering, death and destruction at the hands of Mother Nature have been in the news for the past week. For those of us in the Rocky Mountains, it is hard to comprehend the devastation of such a powerful hurricane.Friends I talked to a few days ago assured me their relatives in Mississippi were safe for now and their home was not destroyed.But lest we become complacent, let us be reminded of our own mountain hazards that could place us and our home in harm’s way.Certainly we are not immune from flooding or mud flows. The most desirable home sites level enough for houses to be built upon are usually in valleys. Homes in these low-lying areas often end up built on either floodplains or on alluvial fans.Both floodplains and alluvial fans result from deposits of water-transported material. My own home rests on an ancient alluvial deposit. A hard fast rain of 4 inches or more upslope and I’m worried.Being one of the information officers on the mud-flood team formed after the Coal Seam Fire certainly gave me a unique perspective on floods and mudflows.Part of my job was to gather as much data as possible on the likelihood of a major flood event occurring. From historic records I discovered that some homes had been built on top of the old Mitchell Creek steam bed. A major flood in the early 1900s moved the stream channel and silted in the old one.Only God knows if or when another major flood might move the stream bed again.Mentioning rock slides as another mountain danger hardly seems necessary. Anyone who journeyed east on I-70 or tried to come home from Denver a few weeks ago doesn’t need to be reminded of what a few tons of rock can do to travel plans.The touch of fall in the air these mornings means most of us are no longer thinking about wildfire danger. Not me. I worry until the snows come.With a friend of mine dispatched to a fire near Palisade a few days ago as dozer boss, I know the fire season isn’t over yet.And when winter’s snow falls abundantly we’re into a whole new season of danger. Instead of water, mud or rocks charging down the slopes in our direction, we have avalanches to worry about.Forgive me if you will, but I was about to go way out on a limb and say that most of us have enough sense to stay out of the way of avalanches.Then I remembered the chill down my spine from the many times during winter that my eyes have strayed while driving to Denver.Those brief glances at what lies at the bottom of a few obvious avalanche chutes visible from the interstate give me cause of grave concern. Houses. Who would want to live there?Us, we are the ones who build where we want. Then we hope and pray it won’t be us in harm’s way.With over 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories and concerns with readers every other week.