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Clear Creek high water, ice causes concern

9:56 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
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GOLDEN - After a flood scare in Golden Tuesday night, many were out to take a look at Clear Creek Wednesday. It's a waterway that looks very different than what residents are used to.

There are high peaks of ice, and near Lions Park, ice has forced the creek out of its banks and into an area that was a field not long ago.

"No Goldenite has seen this in 128 years," Richard Gardner said, who's known as the unofficial "historian" of Golden. "This is the first time we've had a winter flood since December 14, 1885."

Others weren't as sure about the last time it happened, but said it wasn't anything they could remember.

"This is kind of a new phenomenon where [the creek] breaks loose and starts running other places because of the ice," Golden public works director Dan Hartman said. "We have more water than we traditionally do this time of year."

Hartman said what's happening is a combination of the heavy September rain, then the long, bitter cold spell and a thaw out.

The flood scare Tuesday happened when a dam made of ice broke in the canyon near Idaho Springs. Hartman said ice dams are common and happen when slush builds up in the creek. He said while flooding could happen in the winter months, he doesn't expect a catastrophe.

"We're not going to have this big wave coming down and scrape Golden off the map," Hartman said.

School of Mines Geological Engineer Paul Santi agreed, but also said that this is a rare event and people should be cautious.

"We have a situation right now where there's a possibility of a repeat of what happened [Tuesday]," Santi said. "However, there is some evidence the stream can absorb some of its capacity. It still pays to be careful, just because it's a rare event."


Ice dams and ice jams aren't all too uncommon in Colorado this time of year. While they do happen typically in the spring when warmer temperatures move in, they also happen in the beginning of the winter. The only thing that's rare in Colorado is when they happen close to civilization.

Ice dams or ice jams happen when the weather is really cold and then all of a sudden gets really warm. The water underneath an ice-covered river typically flows at a steady speed, but in some cases backs up with ice and left over debris. Then when the sun comes in to the picture, like it did on Tuesday, things begin to melt and we see a river of ice, water and debris flush downstream.

Ice dams and jams tend to happen in places where people don't live. That's why it was unusual to see it becoming an issue near Golden, according to 9NEWS Meteorologist Marty Coniglio.

"In some cases it will build up and have it go out of its banks and seep sideways," Coniglio said.

The term "ice dam" is also used when there's a buildup of ice on top of roofs. It's important to note: we're not out in the clear just yet. Experts say with warm temperatures over the next few days, we could see more ice-jams and dams break a part.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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