Drought to deluge: Skies open

Torrential rain, hail and funnel clouds descend on area

By Michael BeDan, Rocky Mountain News

September 13, 2002

A woman on a mountain bike crept up the 14th Avenue incline Thursday afternoon and wobbled across Sherman Street, one hand steering the bicycle, one hand gripping an umbrella to shield her from the downpour.

Down the street, Valerie Dewey stood at Colfax and Lincoln, peering across the road. Finally, she took off her shoes, rolled her black slacks up to her knees and waded into the crosswalk.

Cars sloshed through the intersection at 14th and Lincoln and, one after another, plunged into an unforgiving pothole hidden by a pool of water.

In Castle Rock, off Colorado 83, a snowplow emerged from hibernation to unearth a Douglas County Sheriff's deputy's patrol car, which had been buried in hail.

After being knocked silly all summer by the worst drought in Colorado history, Zeus replied Thursday, dumping torrential rain and hail across the state and punctuating the retort with bolt after bolt of jagged lightning. Up to 2 inches of rain fell in parts of Denver.

The sudden storm, which hit Denver just before 5 p.m., sent pedestrians scrambling for shelter. Umbrellas blossomed. The 28 cobblestone steps in front of the Capitol transformed into a hypnotic waterfall, sheets of it flowing step to step like a Slinky.

Streets flooded and cars splashed through knee-high puddles at intersections.

Denver police briefly closed several intersections, including 38th and Walnut. Several funnel clouds were spotted around the state, including one in the 700 block of Quince Street and one near Smith Road and Havana. None touched down.

Meanwhile, the state gulped long-overdue precipitation.

"I'm sure it's helping the drought," said Jim Kalina, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Boulder.

It also caught Coloradans off guard.

Chris Hensley was holding a picket sign on Lincoln, protesting Ludvik Electric. Moments later, the 21-year-old stood sopping wet under an awning at the Capitol Annex building, shivering.

"It hit all of a sudden," Hensley said.

Gwen Reid, who works at the Capitol Annex, was dry, smoking a cigarette in the annex doorway.

"I tried to come out, but it's too wet," she said. "I might just go back upstairs to work."

In Jefferson County, potential mudslides loomed in the charred mountains where the Hayman Fire once raged.

Jeffco Sheriff's spokeswoman Jacki Tallman said officials were crossing their fingers.

"Our deputies are not reporting any flooding," she said. "It was very heavy rain, but it moved through very quickly. The people in that Hayman burn area are very cautious. We haven't gotten any calls."

In Castle Rock, pea-sized hail blanketed the streets.

"We had 6 inches of hail in Cherry Valley, between Franktown and El Paso County," Douglas County Sheriff Sgt. Michael Rollin said. "But no wash-outs, no significant traffic problems."

Rain remains in the forecast through tonight, with temperatures predicted to reach a high of 70 degrees. The weekend forecast calls for sun and highs of 69 on Saturday and 70 Sunday.

"There could be one or two severe storms, but nothing like (Thursday)," Kalina said.