A torrential downpour on the Waldo Canyon burn scar before the evening commute Wednesday turned loose a flash flood that swept stunned motorists off the road and closed U.S. Highway 24 for about three hours.
The storm was fast and powerful. The National Weather Service in Pueblo said more than an inch of rain fell in upper Waldo Canyon within 35 minutes.
"Under any other circumstances, that wouldn't really be that big of a deal. But since we do have the burn scar in that area, that creates a very, very serious situation," meteorologist Patrick Cioffi said.
Rain also fell in Black Forest, but the burn area of more than 14,000 acres in northern El Paso County appeared to escape the worst of the storm.
"This seemed to have basically been an episode that affected us most up on Highway 24," El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said.
Kramer said an estimated 20 to 25 vehicles were either swept off the road or stuck in the mudflow. He said he was unaware of any injuries or damage to homes.
"I think the lesson learned here is that this was a demonstration of the speed and the power in which that water can move," Kramer said.
"If it's able to move cars like that, it's certainly a force to be reckoned with, and we certainly knew that, but this was a visual display this time," he said.
"People need to certainly heed the warning and be very aware of the weather forecast and weather in the area and be mindful of the dangers that we're going to continue to face from the threat of flash flooding up in that area."
The Gazette's video editor, John Schroyer, went to capture the scene and was among the motorists carried off the road by the fast-moving floodwaters.
"I was driving up 24, and it wasn't raining that hard, and then all of a sudden, cars just started stopping in front of me," Schroyer said.
"A cop turned on his lights, and gunned it in reverse, and sped by me, going the wrong way on the highway. I should have done the same thing, but I couldn't see what was going on," he said.
Schroyer said he pulled over.
"I looked down for a minute, and when I glanced back up, a giant black wave of mud slammed into my car. It turned my car completely around and washed me probably a few hundred feet down the highway to the east, until I finally came to rest on the side of the on ramp," he said. "The flood waters kept going and going, and I was stuck in my car for probably half an hour, until I climbed out of the window onto my car's roof and jumped to solid ground."
The weather service initially issued a severe thunderstorm warning for north-central El Paso County, saying ping pong-size hail and 60 mile per hour winds were possible.
A short time later, about 3 p.m., the weather service issued flash flood warnings for the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest burn areas.
Police shut down Highway 24 about 3:30 p.m., causing traffic gridlock on the west side of Colorado Springs and stranding scores of motorists just before rush hour, some of whom decided to pass the time in Manitou Springs.
Pat Sullivant and his children were shopping in Manitou when they heard about the flash flood.
"There's water, but it looks a wall of mud just flowing down the side of the mountain," Pat Sullivant said while observing the muddy water flowing in Fountain Creek.
An 18-year-old man who goes by the name "Stitch" said he took a dip in floodwaters.
"I went swimming in that because I was hot and I wanted to go swimming, but then I got kicked out because it's apparently illegal," said Stitch, who was covered in dirty water from head to toe.
In Black Forest, the rains deepened ruts alongside several dirt roads, including Gun Club Trail just east of Wildoak Drive. Ash-filled water also pooled in several retention ponds and low-lying fields - getting up to four feet deep in a field abutting Shoup Road east of Tia Lane.
The water in that field rushed past Lea Reynolds' house on Tia Lane, leaving her emptied foundation filled with wet ash and dirt. A couple hours after the storm passed, she stood in her muddy front yard, on top of shards of pots and porcelain houses she collected over the years.
She had recently picked those antiques - still intact - out of the foundation of her house and set them in her front yard.
"Some of the antiques that survived the fire didn't survive this," Reynolds said. "What do you do?"
Reporters Jakob Rodgers and Alison Noon contributed to this report.
Contact Daniel ChacOn: 476-1623 Twitter @danieljchacon Facebook Daniel Chacon
Video editor’s car tweets
The wild ride that Gazette video editor John Schroyer took Wednesday in his Subaru when he got caught in a flash flood spawned a new Twitter account.
@SchroyersCar was created soon after Schroyer tweeted that his car had been swept off U.S. Highway 24, apparently to poke fun at an otherwise scary situation in 140 characters or less.
As of 9 p.m., the account had 28 followers, including the editor and managing editor of The Gazette.
Among the tweets:
Heading out to Manitou to cover flash flooding. Should be interesting.
JOHN WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?! I’M A SUBARU, NOT A BOAT!
OW! That was a really big rock, John! Steer me out of here, please!
Oh, COME ON! You know my mechanic said I’m not supposed to get mud in my valves!
Four-wheel drive doesn’t mean I can float, you know.
Oh, thank Henry Ford, we’ve stopped. OK, John, get me outta here … wait, are you FILMING A VIDEO?
This is not going to look good on my Carfax.
Well, looks like I’m stuck here for a while. Could somebody bring me a burrito? I wanna cram it in John’s face.