BOULDER - Early warning systems for flood detection continue to develop.
The technology plays a key role in events like last month's deadly flooding.
The technology, combined with education, is saving lives.
The flooding in September was devastating for so many people, but history shows it could have been even worse.
All we need to do is take a look back 37 years to see just how far we've come.
Flash flooding hit Big Thompson Canyon in 1976.
Four hours of rain dumped 12 inches of rain and 143 people died in the ensuing flash floods.
Colorado flood researchers faced a troubling question: What if a flood like Big Thompson hit Boulder?
"We looked at that situation. It wasn't a good scenario," said Kevin Stewart, who manages the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District's flood warning program.
The ALERT System was developed more than three decades ago in response to Big Thompson.
"Most of the people that lost their lives in the Big Thompson canyon lost their lives in vehicles," said Stewart.
Researchers found a lack of education about what to do in a flooding emergency.
They also found a lack of technology.
"What you're seeing there is basically an FM broadcast radio station," said Stewart.
The ALERT system is a real-time flood detection network, measuring rainfall and rising stream levels.
A meteorologist monitors the system during flood season from April 15 to Sept. 15.
"We detect the threat early," said Stewart.
The 220 stations allow flood advisories to be issued even before it rains.
That technology, combined with flood education, saved lives when floods hit Colorado in September.
"This was a very widespread event. It was extremely damaging," said Stewart.
The water wiped out roads and homes, but only 8 people died.
The overwhelming majority of those the flood's path survived.
"One is they've been educated about the threat. Number two is the technology is available to them to get the early warnings," said Stewart.
Colorado's ALERT system first began 34 years ago and now includes Boulder Creek, South Boulder Creek, and Saint Vrain Creek watersheds.
Researchers are looking at data from last month to see how we can further improve our warning system, for the next big flood.
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