Merriott column: No longer any such thing as a 100-year fire, flood or storm

Frosty Merriott

What a depressing drive last weekend through Glenwood Canyon! This was our first time through the Canyon since the Grizzly Creek Fire (32,631 acres and four months to full containment). Parts of the Canyon are so surreal as to resemble the Martian landscape being transmitted from the Perseverance Rover.

The scene generated deep emotions, heartfelt sadness and depression for the Canyon’s critters and trees. And a real blessing in how the hell did Hanging Lake dodge that fire storm bullet?

My thoughts turned back to a couple summers ago when we had the Lake Christine Fire started by stupid humans firing tracer rounds at the Basalt shooting range during Stage 2 Fire Warnings. As we approach another fire season, it cannot be said too many times how incredibly stupid people can be.

Don’t be one of them.

Gazing at the glow in the night sky over Basalt Mountain on Fourth of July I naively assumed we are through with fires in our region for a while. Just blue skies for the gorgeous summers to come. No be-prepared-to-evacuate warnings, right?

Our daughter was working as a nurse in North Louisiana after graduation. We were actually entertaining retirement and moving back to Louisiana. Life on beautiful Lake Claiborne was in fact serenading me with a siren’s song. Watching the sunset on the lake every night or listening to the staccato pounding of rain on the tin boat dock roof would be the only way I could make a change like that work.

This, of course, after gazing at Mt Sopris’ beauty for all these years.

But then, in life’s perfect timing, the EF-3 (135 mph) Tornado ripped through my old hometown in North Louisiana just down the road from Lake Claiborne.

We pivoted quickly.

We do not want to ever hear another freight train roaring through our back yard. Carly and I once laid in our bathtub with the whole damn house shaking from a tornado going right over us. But, we have had our fire at Lake Christine so let’s for sure stay away from hurricanes and tornadoes. We will take our chances with fires, OK?

This was our thought, even though it was apparent that the drought in Colorado was no longer temporary and the Colorado climate had been officially deemed arid. The fire danger, though, has increased exponentially every year.

Last year, we had the worst fire season in the history of Colorado. The three largest fires were Cameron Peak (209,000 acres), East Troublesome (193,000 acres) and Pine Gulch (139,000 acres) — three 100-year event fires in one summer!

Last year, in in the town of Lake Charles, La., two hurricanes ripped through the town almost simultaneously, one a Cat 2 (100 mph winds) and one a Cat 4 (150 mph winds). I have been on a pipe laying barge in 35-foot seas and 90 mph winds in the Gulf (of Mexico) while in college. You can be assured you don’t want any part of these wind events, either!

Two named hurricanes hitting the same town in less than two months? The flooding had barely subsided from Laura in August before Delta hit. Another 100-year event you say?

The headline of the Denver Post in February, “Texas cold crisis exposes fallibility,” caught my eye, as did the sub headline, “Roads, power grids and water sources may not be able to handle heightened flooding, wildfires and storms.” This particularly resonated, as I had coincidentally only come to the conclusion in the last month that the 100-year fire, flood or storm is fake news. Could be an old wives tail? Or a myth perpetuated by insurance companies to facilitate higher premiums?

Signs of the risks of extreme weather (100-year weather events happening every year) to our aging infrastructure are popping up everywhere. The freak winter storm in February spurred power outages in not only Texas and Oklahoma, but also Mississippi. One third of the oil production in the country was shut down. Drinking water systems in Ohio, Mississippi and Texas failed. Xcel spent almost a billion dollars more on gas during the power outage and still beat last year’s Q1 earnings?

One-hundred-year events every year? Remember this. Failure is not an option. Court Gentry would sigh and say, “Failure is always an option. It is just not the desired option.”

Pick your poison, fire, flood, or storm — just don’t call it a 100-year event ever again.

Frosty Merriott is a CPA in Carbondale and a former town council member who considers himself a moderate independent.

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