Colorado History

The Ten Biggest Colorado Disasters, Natural or Not

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5. Black Sunday
The American Dust Bowl lasted so long and was so widespread that it gave a name to an entire decade: the Dirty Thirties. April 14, 1935, marked what was arguably the apex of that disaster, when over 300 million tons of topsoil were displaced by an enormous windstorm that stretched from Oklahoma into Colorado's eastern plains, burying homes, cars and people unlucky enough to be out in the storm. Even the skies over Denver turned dark.

4. Blizzard of 1913
Denver has had a number of big snows; folks who lived here at the time will still regale you with tales about the Christmas blizzard of 1982, which came on the heels of another record snowfall just a month before. But those were only twenty-something inches; in the first week of December 1913, they could have more easily measured the snow in feet, as nearly 46 inches fell on a city that was still using horses and wagons to clear the roads. Citizens muddled through, piling wagon-loads of snow into what would later become Civic Center Park, stoking their coal hearths, and adjusting their hats with a “Harrumph.”

3. Avalanches
There have been several instances of terrible avalanches taking the lives of Coloradans and Colorado visitors alike — most recently on April 20, 2013, when an avalanche near the Loveland Ski Area (but outside the boundaries) claimed five. But the record is more stark when avalanches overall are compared to national numbers. In the latter half of the last century, specifically 1950 to 1997, there were 514 deaths attributed to avalanche dangers, and over a third of those incidents occurred in Colorado. That gives Colorado the dubious distinction of leading the nation in avalanche deaths — almost double the rate of Alaska, which ranks second. Makes you want to reconsider the name of the hockey team.

2. Big Thompson Flood
The Bicentennial year of 1976 saw one of the legendary floods of Colorado, which killed 144 people and cost the state $35 million in 1977 dollars (about $140 million today). In terms of actual water, the Big Thompson Flood — so named for the canyon through which it rampaged — carried less volume than the 2013 floods, but the rainfall on July 31, 1976, was the heaviest on record. The rain came so hard and fast — and caught so many Coloradans by surprise — that the death toll was far higher than it might have been had the floodwaters risen more slowly.

1. Douglas Bruce
Okay, so Douglas Bruce, with his support of the 1992 Taxpayer's Bill of Rights amendment to the Colorado Constitution and his criminal indictment and his probation violations and his propensity to kick members of the press, might not be properly termed “natural.” But in terms of his effect on the State of Colorado? Definitely a disaster.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen