Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Aside from Green Mountain Falls, 'bizarre' storm caused only minor damage

By Matt Steiner Updated: August 24, 2013 at 8:24 am

Stress levels in Teller and El Paso counties peaked by mid-evening Thursday as torrential rains fell near Woodland Park and piles of hail struck northern Colorado Springs.

Jeff Heredia, 30, who lives off Dublin Road east of Powers Boulevard, shoveled remnants of mud from a storm drain early Friday afternoon. A husband and the father of two young kids, he worked as he described an hour-and-30-minute ordeal Thursday night that left Sandyford Lane in front of his home looking more like a lake than a residential street.

"The hail started almost immediately," Heredia said, noting that rainwater rushed down the hill on an adjacent street and had nowhere to go as ice chunks clogged drains along Sandyford.

Heredia said rain and hail fell for several minutes. Then it would subside, begin to drain off, and the hail would pound again. According to Heredia, two feet of water filled the road with a thick layer of ice on top.

"It was totally bizarre," he said. "There were people walking on top of it. It looked like polar ice caps."

According to the National Weather Service, more than 3 inches of precipitation fell Thursday evening on multiple parts of the Pikes Peak region. Streets were closed, including Black Forest Road, Voyager Parkway, U.S. 24 between Colorado Springs and Teller County, and several thoroughfares in the western part of the city.

The heavy hail that hit in parts of northern Colorado Springs as well as in Littleton, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock was expected to result in numerous insurance claims for roofs and cars, according to insurance experts. State Farm, the state's largest insurer, said in a Friday news release that it is bringing in extra help to inspect damages and process claims.

Despite Heredia's and other's lives being disrupted by hail and flooded streets, the aftermath on Friday was less dramatic than expected in most places.

Krithika Prashant, a spokeswoman for Colorado Springs, said Friday afternoon that one sidewalk sustained minor damage in the city. There were no other reports of infrastructure damage.

The El Paso County Department of Transportation's Max Kirschbaum said damage to county property was also minor.

Kirschbaum said Myers and Milne roads to the southeast each had washout damage that was repaired by midday on Friday. A culvert was exposed on Milne and the road left impassable while a third of the eastbound lane on Myers was gone.

Several other county roads had minor washout damage to the edges. Kirschbaum said those issues were easily fixed with graters. He said 20 grater operators were working Friday morning despite it being their normal day off.

The big surprise for Kirschbaum was in Chipita Park and Green Mountain Falls where there was no damage at all to county roads. He expected major trouble in that area after reports of a "wall of water" pouring down Fountain Creek out of Woodland Park.

"We checked all our culverts, bridges, ditches and roads," Kirschbaum said. "We were clean and clear all the way up and down."

The only issues in western El Paso County were in Green Mountain Falls.

Two small bridges over Fountain Creek were damaged in Green Mountain Falls after constant pounding compromised the structures. One bridge on Hotel Street had a 4-foot-wide hole in it.

Other landowners along Fountain Creek had water in their homes.

Jean Weissenfluh, who lives in the 8400 block of Chipita Park Road, averted flood damage because of sandbag work done by volunteers from the Coalition of the Upper South Platte.

Weissenfluh said a firefighter came by her home around 6 p.m. Thursday with a warning.

"He told me, 'You've got to get out of here. There's an 8-foot wall of water coming down from Woodland Park,'" she said. "I went and looked at the creek and it was just a babbling brook. But we got out because we know what it can do."

Weissenfluh, 73, who has lived with her husband Max in the flood plain since 1983, pointed to the rest of her property that was muddy and obviously flooded Thursday night.

Marlene Eason, a neighbor of the Weissenfluhs, said about a foot of water filled the land between the homes, reaching about 50 yards south from the edge of the creek. Her home was also protected after mitigation work by CUSP.

"The damage was minimal," said Dennis Eason, Marlene's husband. "But we did lose our garden."

For much of Thursday night, news crews focused on Manitou Springs and the damage that might occur if that "wall of water" thundered into the town at the base of Pikes Peak.

Manitou came away virtually unscathed. The water pouring out of Teller County brought the creek to the brink of flood stage Thursday, but didn't spill over the banks.

Just after 9 a.m. Friday morning, brown water still rushed down the creek, but at lower levels.

Sidewalks and streets were dry Friday morning after the storm dropped about 3 inches of rain on Woodland Park and almost as much in northern El Paso County. But not nearly as much rain fell on the Waldo Canyon burn scar.

Three storms that did hit the burn area on July 1, July 10 and Aug. 9, sent tons of mud, rocks, trees and water to damage homes and cars. One man was killed.

Safwan Momani owns Olive Tree Traders on Manitou Avenue and said the flash flood threats Thursday and daily advisories for possible thunderstorms has raised the tension level in Manitou Springs.

Momani said that after each flood, the town's business district "becomes a ghost town" for a while. He fears that business has suffered since the first flash floods in July and may not be enough to sustain some merchants as the tourist season winds down.

"Business has been affected," he said. "It's been a tough year on everybody."

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