What Hazards Do We Face in Fort Collins?#
Flooding in Fort Collins#
Flooding is one of the City's destructive hazards, and has a been the culprit for many of the most damaging events inside the City. Flooding often follows a series of storms that inundate the ground and drainage systems with water at an unsustainable rate. Floods are also caused by dam failures, ice jams, or breaches in irrigation ditches.
Fort Collins often experiences floods along the Poudre River, but is also susceptible to flooding along roadways as well.
Fort Collins has experienced flooding throughout it's history. Here are just a few of those events
2013: From September 9th to the 16th, locations in Fort Collins received up to 12 inches of rain, resulting in the largest flood event on the Poudre River in Fort Collins since 1930.
1997: 10-14 inches of rain fell over Fort Collins for a 31 hour period. The flooding resulted in the deaths of five people and caused approximately $200 million in damages.
1864: A flooded Poudre River destroyed the original Camp Collins, located near present day Laporte.
Watch or Warning#
"What is the difference between a Flash Flood Watch and a Flash Flood Warning?"
We often hear this question asked, and the difference between the two is as it sounds. However everyone should take notice even if a Watch has been issued.
A Flash Flood Watch is issued when the conditions for a flood are considered favorable for flash flooding. For example; a storm is on the way that has the capability of causing flooding. While this doesn't mean that flooding is happening, people in the Watch area should be ready to take action if conditions worsen.
A Flash Flood Warning is issued when a flash flood is currently taking place or the possibility is extremely likely. Flash Flood Warnings mean that residents should seek higher ground and be ready to evacuate if instructed. As always never try to walk, swim, or drive through flood waters.
What Do I Do When Flooding Occurs?#
Floods can be an extremely deceptive weather event as many people underestimate how forceful flood waters are. When flooding occurs, residents should take the following steps:
- If instructed to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Never drive around barricades indicating that a roadway is closed
- Listen to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) or NOAA Weather Radio for information and instructions
- Stay off bridges over fast-moving water
- If you vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay inside. If water rising in the vehicle then seek refuge on the roof, and do so only if necessary.
Turn Around, Don't Drown!
More deaths are caused by flooding than any other thunderstorm related hazard.
6 Inches of fast moving water can knock a full grown adult off their feet
12 Inches of fast moving water can carry away smaller vehicles
24 inches of fast moving water can carry away almost all vehicles
When you see flooding; Turn Around, Don't Drown!
Is your home, work, or place of business in a floodplain? The Fort Collins Stormwater issued Floodplain Map contains information regarding what areas inside Fort Collins city limits fall inside a designated floodplain. Residents should also refer to the FEMA issued floodplain maps, which can be viewed at this link. Please use a combination of Fort Collins and FEMA information when determining if your property is located inside a floodplain. These maps are also smartphone friendly!
For information on floodplains outside of City limits and inside the City of Fort Collins, please visit Larimer County's floodplain webpage at this link.
For information on floodplains located inside Colorado State University's campus, please visit CSU's floodplain webpage at this link.
What is Hail?#
Hail is precipitation that forms in the upper portions of a thunderstorm cloud. Water droplets freeze together in these clouds and become what are known as hailstones. Hail is not a frozen raindrop, as hail falls to the ground as a solid while a frozen raindrop freezes as it descends to the ground.
Hail can fall in round or jagged shapes and has an average size between 1 inch and 1.75 inches.
The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory has estimated that a 1cm hailstone can fall at a speed of up to 9 m/s(20.13 mph). This is just an estimate as each hailstone is unique.
Protecting Property From Hail#
Hail is one of the more destructive forms of weather that is found inside the United States, resulting in over $1 Billion worth of damage annually.
Hail is a difficult storm to protect from, but some steps can be taken!
- Have your roof inspected on an annual basis. Ensuring your roof is capable to withstand hail is one of the more important steps you can take!
- Be sure you have the right insurance coverage on your vehicle. Call your insurance provider and find out whether or not hail is covered under your existing coverage.
What To Do When The Hail Falls?#
Hail can begin to fall in an instant, and without warning. It's extremely important that you know what to do when hail comes into the area.
If you are driving
- Find a safe place to park your vehicle such as a garage or underneath an overpass.
- Don't drive into any areas where hail has accumulated to a foot or more in depth. If the hailstones begin to rapidly melt, roads could flood.
- All those in the vehicle should stay away from the car windows, and cover your eyes if possible.
If you are indoors
- Stay inside and do not go outside "check" on a vehicle or other property.
- Stay away from windows if possible.
If you are outdoors
- Find cover for your entire body, but be sure to cover your head.
- Trees should be used as the last resort for shelter as they may lose branches.
- Find higher ground to avoid possible flooding after the hailstorm has ended.
Thunderstorms and Lightning In Fort Collins#
Thunderstorms are local storm occurrences that are produced by a cumulonimbus cloud. These storms are extremely prevalent during the spring and summer along the Front Range of Colorado. These storms often take place during the afternoon and evening hours, following the warmer weather of the day.
Thunderstorms can bring high winds, dangerous lightning, hail, and heavy rains. Not all of the aforementioned components may be found in the same storm, but Fort Collins has historically experienced thunderstorms with those elements.
Did You Know?
Lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun and can reach temperatures around 50,000°F.
Staying Safe With Thunderstorms and Lightning#
With the prevalence of thunderstorms and lightning in the community, Fort Collins residents should take the steps to know what to do before, during and, after a thunderstorm!
Before Thunderstorms Occur
- Sign up for LETA911. For more information visit our page on LETA 911.
- Trim trees that may pose the risk of damaging your home.
- Consider buying surge protectors for your home to protect your electronic devices.
- Monitor weather reports during the spring and summer time. Change plans if needed!
During A Thunderstorm
- Know when to take cover! When Thunder Roads, Go Indoors!
- Take cover indoors or in a vehicle.
- Move away from windows if possible
- Avoid all flooded roadways. Turn Around, Don't Drown!
After A Thunderstorm
- Continue to monitor weather reporting
- Avoid any fallen power lines and report them to Fort Collins Utilities, and call 970-221-6700
Winter Storms In Fort Collins#
One of the most common hazardous events Fort Collins faces are the winter storms that occur between the months of November and April. These storms can bring freezing temperatures, high winds, heavy snow, sleet, ice, poor visibility, and dangerous driving conditions.
It's important that all Fort Collins residents take the time to prepare themselves for the snowy months, and the storms that take place during those months.
Advisory, Watch, and Warning?#
We often hear from reidents that they aren't sure what the difference is between an advisory, watch, and warning? Let us help clear up some of the confusion between these terms, so you can be ready when you hear that Fort Collins is in an Advisory/Watch/Warning!
Please note all of these definitions are directly from The National Weather Service
An Advisory is issued when:
- Snow accumulation is expected between 3-6 inches in 12 hours
- Travel will be impacted through lower visibility
A Watch is issued when:
- Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 3 days, but the timing, intensity, and occurrence of the storm is still uncertain.
- Any storm in the Watch category has the possibility of accumulating 6 inches of snow in 12 hours or 8+ inches in 24 hours.
A Warning is issued when:
- Heavy snow will be occurring or developing in the next 36 hours.
- The heavy snow will be accompanied with wind greater than 15mph and will have blowing snow
- Any storm in the Warning category has the possibility of accumulating 6 inches of snow in 12 hours or 8+ inches in 24 hours.
How Does Fort Collins Handle Snow?
The City of Fort Collins takes snow very seriously and wants to make sure the City is back on the move quickly after a snow event.
Fort Collins departments collaborate on snow removal efforts to ensure that you have a safe and efficient transportation network!
How Do I Prepare For Snow?#
Winter Storms have the capability to interrupt power and communications services. These possible effects mean that residents should prepare!
Residents should prepare for Winter Storms by doing the following:
- Prepare your home to keep out the cold through insulation, caulking, and weather stripping
- Learn how to prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting
- Build a 72-Hour emergency kit for each member of your family
- Build an emergency kit for your vehicle
- Learn the signs and how to treat cold related illnesses such as frostbite or hypothermia.
When a Winter Storm strikes, know how to get through the storm!
- Stay off the roads if possible!
- Be safe while shoveling snow!
- Limit your time outside
- Don't overexert yourself and risk the chance of a heart attack
- Use generators or grills outdoors!
- Don't use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home
- Check on your neighbors that may be at risk in the extreme cold.
While snow is a part of life on the Front Range, never take its effects for granted!
Tornadoes...in Fort Collins?#
While tornadoes are not a common event inside the City, we are still at risk! While we most commonly think of tornadoes in the eastern plains, we have had tornadoes reported inside City limits in the past.
Tornadoes are violent storms that have a incredibly fast rotating column of air reaching the ground. These columns can reach up to 200 MPH and are extremely destructive to all structures and objects they come into contact with.
It's important that residents understand what to do when a tornado watch or warning has been issued!
Tornado Watch vs Tornado Warning#
As with any weather alert, there is a difference between a watch and a warning. Residents should note that when a Watch is issued, there is a chance that it develops into a warning and should be ready to take action.
A Tornado Watch means:
- Conditions are favorable to the development of tornadoes
- Watches are issued in a duration of 4 to 8 hours
- Residents should prepare to move to safe location if the watch turns into a warning
A Tornado Warning means:
- A tornado has been indicated by Advanced Doppler radar or sighted by spotters
- Residents should seek shelter immediately
- They are issued in a duration of approximately 30 minutes
Did You Know?
The average time a tornado spends on the ground is about 5 minutes
What Do I Do When A Tornado Strikes?#
Residents should be prepared for when a tornado strikes! Take the following steps when a warning has been issued:
- Have a pre-identified safe location in your home and work place. Ideally this location is on the lowest level of the building and is windowless
- Take additional cover by shielding your head and neck with your arms
- Listen to the Emergency Alert System (EAS), or NOAA Weather Radio for information and instructions
- Do not try and outrun a tornado in a vehicle. If you are unable to reach a shelter, abandon your vehicle and find cover in a low lying ditch or ravine,
Wildfire in, and out of, the City#
The City is not immune from wildfire, or its effects. This destructive hazard can spread quickly, leaving large sections of land devastated, and spreading heavy smoke across the area.
Unfortunately, wildfires have been increasing in frequency and severity over the last decade. Larimer County, and Fort Collins have been impacted by more than 14 different wildfires since 1939. And since 2012, starting with the Fern Lake Fire, over 300,000 acres of land have burned in Larimer County.
While forest areas are the most common thought of area at risk to wildfire, large open natural areas are also at risk to fast moving fires. While this did not occur inside City limits, the 2021 Marshall Fire spread through open spaces of Boulder County, destroying over 900 homes.
Smoke and Air Quality#
Wildfires are not only destructive to the environment around them, but often spread smoke across the region that causes degraded air quality for those living in their path. It is not abnormal for Fort Collins to experience smoke, and as a result poor air quality, from fires taking place in California, Idahao, Montana, Nevada, or Oregon.
Poor air quality from wildfire can result in irritated eyes and respiratory tracts, and exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as asthma. Certain groups, such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to smoke exposure.
What can I do on poor air quality days?
When poor air quality is present, consider the following actions:
1. Take any medications related to lung or respiratory functions as directed by your doctor or primary care professional.
2. Stay indoors where clean air is present. Keep windows and doors to the outside shut to prevent air particulates from entering
3. Avoid outdoor exercising or strenuous outdoor activity.
Protecting your home from fire#
While not all homes in the City are in direct contact with natural areas that are vulnerable to fire, all residents can take steps to reduce fire risk at home.
Outdoor Grilling and Cooking
- Move any grill or cooking equipment away from siding, decking, or other flammable items
- Keep cooking equipment clean of leftover grease and fat
- Don't leave any grill unattended
- Keep fire pits at least 3 feet away from your home or other flammable objects
- Use metal screens over wood burning fires to keep sparks from floating out
- Put out fire pits by extinguishing them with water. Gently stir and spread out ashes so they cool. Don't walk away until those ashes are cool to the touch
- Always keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case fires get out of control.
What if my home is close to a natural area?
Residents who may have a home next to, or near, a natural area may need to take additional steps to ensure their home is safe. Residents should consider implementing defensible space between their homes and the area at risk. Poudre Fire Authority has more information about how to create, and maintain, defensible space at your home.
Mitigation by the City
For those with questions on what the City is doing to mitigate against wildfire in our natural areas, please reach out to the Natural Areas department by emailing email@example.com
Be Ready For Those Hazards!
Are you unsure of how you'll receive emergency alerts from the City? Sign up with NOCO Alerts to receive alerts through your landline, cell phone, work phone, text and e-mail! Even add alerts for locations such as elderly adults or children's school locations!