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Essential Guide to Natural Disasters in Colorado
Colorado is the 10th most disaster-prone state in America.
That means that some sort of natural disaster could happen to you at any time, and your life would change forever.
It doesn't matter if you live in a wildfire zone or not; there are many other types of disasters that could strike anywhere, anytime.
The purpose of this guide is to help you understand what these disasters are, where they occur in Colorado, how often they happen here, and what steps you can take to prepare for them before they strike.
Avalanches in Colorado
Avalanches are the result of snowfall that exceeds the binding force of the underlying snow.
The binding force is the weight of the overlying snow, gravity, friction with ground, and other natural occurrences.
Avalanche zones are areas in Colorado where avalanches are considered to be a threat to life or property.
Many people who live in avalanche zones choose not to take any notice of it because they don't want to worry about it.
The potential for an avalanche can be increased by any type of unstable snowpack, steep mountain slopes, vegetation on lower slopes which increases the amount of surface area, human activities that increases loading on the slope such as skier or snowmobiler activity.
Drought & Extreme Heat in Colorado
Extreme heat can be a threat to your life and health, as well as your property. The best way to deal with these conditions is to stay away from them as much as possible. However, there are some people who have no choice but to work outside or go about their normal routines during extreme heat.
Even though Colorado is more widely known for it's snow and mountain climates, it is vulnerable to extreme heat, especially in its extended plains. It's also in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains, which can add to drought stress.
Extreme Heat & Drought are linked together because drought causes the water levels in rivers, lakes, and wells to drop. This can lead to higher temperatures because there is less evaporative cooling taking place.
Earthquakes in Colorado
The threat of an earthquake to your life and property is very real, but it's important not to let this fear control you. Earthquakes are common in Colorado, especially on the high Rockies.
The best way to deal with earthquakes is knowing what you need to do should the earth begin to shake.
Colorado has high seismic activity within its borders because of its location at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, which is an active continental margin. The state also contains faults that are capable of producing large earthquakes.
Floods in Colorado
Floods are the most common type of natural disaster in Colorado. Flooding can be caused by rainfall or melting snow. It is caused when there is too much water flow in rivers, streams, and runoff from rain storms. This excess water will cause water to come onto land that is not normally flooded.
This process of flooding moves slowly, so if you are in a low-lying or low-quality area then there is a higher chance that your home will be flooded. There are certain steps you can take to prepare for floods such as building emergency kits (or "bug out bags"), an emergency plan, having insurance for your home, creating an emergency communications plan with family members, and staying informed on the situation using media outlets like TV and the internet.
Landslides & Debris Flow in Colorado
Landslides are the second most common type of natural disaster in Colorado. A mudslide can happen when there is an earthquake or volcanic eruption, heavy rain, or over-steepened slopes of the mountain. Debris flow is similar to landslides but happens when there is heavy rainfall. If you live in an area that has a high chance of landsliding, then you should try to find out what the hazard zones are and if your house will be affected.
Nuclear Disasters in Colorado
Nuclear disasters can happen anywhere in the world, but they are most likely to happen in a location with nuclear power plants. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster happened when an earthquake and tsunami caused a radiation leak from the plant. In Colorado, major nuclear disasters have not happened. Nuclear disasters would affect you by contaminating your surroundings with radioactive materials. Colorado only has a single decommissioned nuclear plant at Ft. St. Vrain. However, Colorado does have neighbors like Arizona with active plants.
You should prepare for a nuclear disaster by making a family emergency plan if a nuclear disaster does happen, storing enough water and food for at least three days while being ready to evacuate, and staying informed of the latest developments of the situation while listening to authorities' recommendations on what you can do during this time period.
Power Outages in Colorado
Power outages are usually thought of as a consequence rather than a cause of a natural disaster. However, an extended power outage can create its own disaster due to food shortages, heat, and cold vulnerabilities. Due to Colorado's extreme geography, the risk of localized power outages is very substantial.
Power outages can happen to everyone, but according to the Department of Energy, people living in rural areas are especially vulnerable. Storms like ice storms and hailstorms can lead to power outages local to where they occur. When trees fall onto power lines or when an accident occurs that degrades power lines, it creates localized outages that can last from a few hours to several days. That is why it's important to make an emergency kit and plan in case of a power outage.
You should prepare for a power outage by making and following your family emergency plan, storing enough water and food for at least three days while being ready to evacuate, and staying informed of the latest developments.
Severe Weather & Thunderstorms in Colorado
Colorado is home to some of the most severe weather in the world. That's because Colorado sits at the boundary between two uniquely different climate zones, one very cold and dry, and one very wet. The Rocky Mountains give rise to thunderstorms. When thunderstorm cells form on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, they can carry heavy snowfall with them to lower elevations west of the mountains. Thunderstorms are also responsible for dropping hail that can accumulate up to two inches in diameter along with strong winds that can reach more than 100 mph.
You should prepare for severe weather by preparing your family emergency plan and having an emergency kit, building an emergency shelter if possible, staying informed about the latest developments, and stocking up on water and food for at least three days.
Snowstorms in Colorado
A snowstorm is a large storm that leads to significant snowfall that leads to major traffic problems and power outages across the state.
The term "bomb cyclone" refers to a storm that resembles a hurricane but is created when a hurricane undergoes "bombogenesis." When the pressure of a storm system drops rapidly, it becomes more powerful. Colorado was hit by an intense bomb cyclone in 2019, which grounded over 1,300 flights, left 84,000 people without electricity.
You should prepare for a snowstorm by planning your routes to be sure they have been treated, staying informed of the latest developments, and storing enough water and food for at least three days.
Hailstorms in Colorado
Hailstorms are very common along the Front Range of Colorado from Fort Collins westward through the Denver metro area.
You should prepare for a hail storm by preparing your family & property for protection. Keep your cars under shelter, make sure your roof is in good condition, and that all people, pets and valuable possessions are sheltered.
Tornadoes in Colorado
A tornado is a severe, rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm. Tornadoes are very dangerous because they can cause tremendous destruction to anything in their path. Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced F-Scale according to the intensity of wind damage. A rating of EF0 indicates light damage, while EF5 indicates intense damage. Colorado's worst Tornado was the Thurman Tornado - an EF4.
At 1 p.m. on August 10th, 1924, a massive twister formed west of Thurman, Colorado and tracked northeast. The tornado destroyed the village of Thurman before moving northeast. Ten people were killed at a farm that also housed many children, according to reports. This was the worst tornado in Colorado's history, with winds estimated above 165mph.
Volcanoes in Colorado
Colorado has exactly one active volcano - Dotsero. Dotsero erupted approximately 4200 years ago, and may erupt again according to the USGS.
Wildfires in Colorado
The most common type of natural disaster to occur in the state is a wildfire.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Colorado, and 2020 was one of the worst fire seasons on record. The Cameron Peak Fire burned more than 200,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire - and possibly the worst natural disaster - in state history.
In Colorado, wildfires are a risk that is often heightened by the presence of natural disasters alongside human-caused factors like climate change, rural housebuilding, etc. The biggest problem with wildfires is smoke inhalation from the fires' combustion process, which releases fumes into the air. It can be difficult to breathe and see fires, especially if fires are dangerously close to you. Prepare your family emergency plan and having an emergency kit as soon as possible. If you live in a fire hazard zone, follow all wildfire mitigation strategies.
Winter Weather in Colorado
The winter season in Colorado can be very harsh if you're unprepared. There are many types of natural disasters that can occur during the winter, including snowstorms, hail storms, and blizzards. To prepare for these natural disasters it is important to weatherproof your home and keep an emergency kit on hand.
Colorado is an area that can be prone to natural disasters. It's important for people in the state to know what disasters are most common, how they might affect them or their family, and some of the steps you can take to prepare yourself. We've outlined a few things we think you should know about Colorado's different types of natural disaster risks so that next time one strikes your home or business, you'll have a better idea of what it means and how best to react.