Flash Floods Kill 3 in Colorado; Dangerous 93L Developing in Gulf of Mexico

By Dr. Jeff Masters
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Published: 3:06 PM GMT on September 12, 2013

Devastating flash floods swept though numerous canyons along the Front Range of Colorado's Rocky Mountains Wednesday night and Thursday morning, washing out roads, collapsing houses, and killing at least two people. The floods were triggered by widespread torrential rains of 4 - 6" that fell in less than twelve hours, thanks to a flow of extremely moist air from the southeast that pushed up against the mountains. These sort of upslope rain events are so-named because as the air flows uphill, it expands and cools, forcing the moisture in it to fall as rain. Balloon soundings from Denver last night and this morning recorded the highest levels of September moisture on record for the station. The total precipitable water (PW), which is how much water would fall at the ground if the entire amount of water vapor through the depth of the atmosphere was condensed, was 1.33" at 12Z (8 am EDT) on September 12, and 1.31" at 00Z September 12. The previous September record was 1.23", set on September 10, 1980. Balloon soundings began in 1948. Wednesday night's rainfall was heaviest near Boulder, Colorado, where a flash flood watch continues through Thursday evening. Though rainfall amounts today are not expected to be as great as on Wednesday, the soils are saturated, and additional flash flooding will occur today as an upper-level low centered over the southern Great Basin continues to pull a moist southeasterly surface flow of air across Eastern Colorado. A map of Boulder flood zones and detailed history of previous floods in the area may be found here.


Figure 1. Flooding in Boulder, Colorado on Wednesday evening, September 11, 2013. Photo posted by brandish on Instagram @photogjake.


Figure 2. Radar-estimated rainfall for the Colorado's Front Range from the September 11 - 12 flash flood event. Rainfall amounts of 6 - 8" (dark rad colors) were indicated near Boulder (circle with a "+" symbol), and confirmed by rain gauge measurements.


Video 1. Flooding in Boulder, Colorado at 36th and Colorado Street on Wednesday night, September 11, 2013.

Dangerous 93L developing in the Gulf of Mexico
A low pressure system (Invest 93L) over the Southwestern Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche is generating heavy rains over the Yucatan Peninsula and adjacent waters as it moves west-northwest at about 5 mph. Radar loops from Mexico show that 93L has a pronounced rotation and is developing low-level spiral bands, and there is a strong possibility that the Air Force hurricane hunter plane scheduled to investigate 93L Thursday afternoon will find that a tropical depression has formed. Satellite loops show only a modest area of heavy thunderstorms, but these are steadily growing in intensity and areal coverage. The atmosphere is unusually moist, ocean temperatures are a very warm 29 - 29.5°C (84 - 85°F), and wind shear is a moderate 10 - 15 knots. These favorable conditions for development are expected to continue through Monday, according to the latest SHIPS model forecast. The computer models predict a landfall location along the Mexican coast between Veracruz and a location a few hundred miles south of the Texas/Mexico border by early next week. The storm is expected to maintain a forward speed of about 5 mph during the coming five days, and this slow motion will potentially allow 93L enough time to intensify into a hurricane before landfall. The high levels of moisture and slow motion of 93L make it a very dangerous rainfall threat, and I expect rainfall amounts of 5 - 10 inches will affect portions of the Mexican coast between Veracruz and Brownsville, Texas over the next five days. An added danger is the presence of tropical disturbance 90E in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, on the other side of Mexico. If 93L intensifies sufficiently, it could draw in the moisture from 90E across Southern Mexico, resulting in torrential rains on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides of Southern Mexico. In their 8 am EDT Thursday Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave 2-day odds of development of 60% and 5-day odds of 80%.


Figure 3. Latest satellite image of Tropical Depression Ten.

Humberto peaks in intensity
Hurricane Humberto is headed northwards over the far Eastern Atlantic, and has likely peaked in strength, with 85 mph winds. Humberto is listed in NHC's preliminary Best-Track data repository as having achieved hurricane strength at 8 am EDT on September 11, which would tie it with Hurricane Gustav of 2002 for latest appearance of the season's first hurricane since 1941. Satellite loops show that Humberto is well-organized hurricane with a distinct eye, but the storm has moved over waters cooler than 26°C, and wind shear has risen to 20 knots, which will likely cause weakening over the next few days. Humberto is not expected to be a threat to any land areas.

Gabrielle heads towards Canada
Tropical Storm Gabrielle is headed northwards to Canada after bringing 40 mph winds and just over an inch of rain to Bermuda on Tuesday night. Satellite loops show that wind shear has ripped up Gabrielle, leaving the storm with almost no heavy thunderstorms, and exposing the low level circulation to view. Wind shear is expected to rise to an extremely high 45 - 70 knots on Friday as Gabrielle encounters a trough of low pressure, which will likely destroy the storm. Gabrielle's remnants will likely bring heavy rain to the Canadian Maritime Provinces on Friday and Saturday.

Jeff Masters

After the Rain (mtnwoman67)
Lots of rain in Colorado for weeks. Last evening's setting sun gave us a great show east of us.
After the Rain, by mtnwoman67
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About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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Flash Floods Kill 3 in Colorado; Dangerous 93L Developing in Gulf of Mexico

Devastating flash floods swept though numerous canyons along the Front Range of Colorado's Rocky Mountains Wednesday night and Thursday morning, washing out roads, collapsing houses, and killing at least two people. The floods were triggered by widespread torrential rains of 4 - 6" that fell in less than twelve hours, thanks to a flow of extremely moist air from the southeast that pushed up against the mountains. These sort of upslope rain events are so-named becaus...

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