Published: August 22, 2013
Ferocious rainstorms Thursday slammed the Front Range, dumping several inches of rain and golf ball-size hail, causing flooding on busy streets and forcing the closure of northbound Interstate 25 and both directions of U.S. 24.
Pictures and videos on social media showed the power of the storm, including raging floodwaters in Fountain Creek that washed away a backhoe in Crystola and residents shoveling hail from sidewalks and driveways in neighborhoods near Powers and Dublin boulevards in north Colorado Springs.
The storms moved particularly slow - exaggerating the effects by having the chance to drop more rain and hail, said Pamela Evenson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Pueblo.
"We did have a lot of moisture in the atmosphere," Evenson said.
"They were big storms, but they were moving so slowly," Evenson added. "The slow movement was a big problem."
The problem was felt on roadways. Northbound I-25 was shut down for about 40 minutes, and U.S. 24 closed in both directions about 6 p.m. and remained closed at 10:30 p.m., with an estimated reopening at 1 a.m. Friday.
Several streets across the Pikes Peak region were closed because of flooding, including portions of Voyager Parkway, Black Forest Road, Squirrel Creek Road, West Colorado Avenue and Bandley Road.
The storms were forecast to send Fountain Creek over its banks in Colorado Springs after midnight, according to the National Weather Service.
Shortly after 9 p.m., a stream gauge at Nevada Avenue showed the water at 7 feet - about 1 foot below flood stage. At 10 p.m., forecasters were calling for the river to reach 10.8 feet, said Larry Walrod, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
The creek normally flows at 1.5 feet, Walrod said. A flood warning specifically for Fountain Creek was extended to Friday afternoon.
"This rain so far is just really not letting up," Walrod said.
Rain gauges spiked across the region in the evening hours.
The Colorado Springs Airport received 1.77 inches of rain as of 8:12 p.m., according to the weather service.
A weather spotter 5 miles southeast of Monument recorded 3.12 inches of rain as of 7 p.m., while a spotter near Woodland Park measured 2.79 inches at 7:21 p.m.
Manitou Springs was virtually inaccessible from the east Thursday evening, although cars could come out of the town. An El Paso County sheriff's deputy reported some flooding at the Manitou Springs Penny Arcade, which was hit in the Aug. 9 flash flood.
The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the 1st Congregational Church at 103 Pawnee Ave., where about eight people took shelter Thursday evening.
About 25 Manitou Springs firefighters were staging at 10:30 p.m. at Manitou Springs Elementary School as Fountain Creek's volume began to increase, said Dave Hunting, a Manitou Springs Fire Department spokesman.
Cimarron Hills Fire Department crews offered support.
Despite the rains, though, Fountain Creek had yet to breach its banks, he said.
Just after 10 p.m., Colorado Springs Utilities was working to fix two weather-related power outages affecting about 2,000 customers: One near Constitution Avenue and North Circle Drive; the other near East Platte Avenue and Peterson Road. The utility expected to restore power in two to three hours.
At one point, police received multiple reports of clouds near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard that looked as if they could produce a tornado.
Firefighters rescued several stranded motorists and repeatedly warned residents to steer clear of creeks, waterways and low-lying areas.
Mario Barbish, who was driving his brand-new Camaro, got the warning too late.
Barbish, 43, was northbound on Voyager Parkway when he got stuck in a river of water.
"My car just died, and I was stuck there," he said. "So then I was just waiting for it to subside, and my car just started leaking in and filling up."
Barbish said he forced the door open when he couldn't get the windows to roll down.
"The only thing I had to break the window open was my bottle of wine, but that's for dinner," he said, laughing.
Barbish got out and swam through icy, murky water with the help of a passerby.
"It was ice cold like Alaska," said Barbish, who was soaked, shivering and wearing a blue towel around his shoulders. "It was freezing. It was just like solid ice or hail."
In Green Mountain Falls, rainfall created a muddy mess.
There's a pretty big hill up behind our store and there's a ton a mud going down our driveway and going down our sidewalk," said Daylin Valentin, a clerk at Western Convenience Store.
"I was just thinking if it's that crazy up here, it's probably way worse out in the pass," she said.
Water was spilling over the banks of Fountain Creek, said Brian Sherman, owner of the Crystola Roadhouse.
"It almost looked like waves in the ocean," he said.
"We watched a tree go down, a pretty good size tree that didn't used to be in the middle of the river, but it was this afternoon for a little while. A big pine tree. We saw it float by," he said.
The National Weather Service in Pueblo issued flash flood and severe thunderstorm warnings throughout the day.
The flash flood warning was extended to Pueblo and other parts of southern Colorado. The Denver area also was hit hard by the storm, with reports of several inches of hail in the Littleton area.
The forecast for Friday calls for a 20 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms, mostly after 1 p.m.
Gazette reporter Garrison Wells contributed to this report.