It was about 8:30 p.m. on the night many Coloradans will never forget.
One of McKee’s emergency room physicians called me at home about a patient he wanted to refer to the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic, where I was working at the time.
It was Saturday, July 31, 1976.
As we were winding up our conversation, he said, “I just got notice that there’s some flooding in the Thompson Canyon. Probably some cuts and bruises. Gotta go.”
Not in our wildest imagination could either of us visualize the horror rampaging down the Big Thompson Canyon.
A wall of water — 19 feet tall — roared down the narrow canyon — killing 139 people and causing millions of dollars in property loss.
Earlier in the day, the humidity in the air day seemed innocent and life in our household was on an even keel.
That afternoon, our two oldest daughters were on the phone making plans for Saturday night.
Claire, 18, asked if she could go to Estes Park with a friend. Sharon. 17, also asked if she could go “out” with friends.
I said “yes” to both requests.
Admittedly, I was a bit of a slacker mom. And by today’s standards I’d also be considered neglectful — letting kids go “out” on a Saturday night.
“But it was the ’70s and Loveland was still a small, safe town, “I still tell myself defensively.
Claire and her girlfriend went to Estes Park, didn’t stay long, and returned before the ravages of the flood emerged.
They escaped by about an hour — unaware of what could have been lapping at their heels.
After driving around Loveland for a while, Sharon and her friends ending up spending the night at our house.
Bill and I went to bed early, unaware of tragedy in the canyon.
Unaware until we turned on the TV in the morning. We saw the unthinkable on our screen.
We also saw that amidst the horror, heroes were born. Officials worked tirelessly, risked all, and at least one officer lost his life.
Recently, I’ve wondered, “What if we could turn back the clock to the morning of July 31, 1976?”
What if weather experts could predict that a major flood would occur that evening?
What if everyone in the canyon had been evacuated by early afternoon?
What if no traffic was allowed on the canyon — other than those evacuating?
There might have been grumbling, complaining and skepticism, but I suspect — in 1976 — most people would comply. Today, I’m not sure.
But back then, there was no way of predicting or preventing that flood. Everyone — from officials to citizens did the best they could. Heroes were born that night.
Now — 45 years later — we know we’re facing not only floods, but other weather extremes triggered by our warming planet.
Our air grows toxic.
Polar caps melt.
Farms face drought.
Yet go about our daily tasks, cleaning our houses, going to work, picking up groceries, changing the oil in our cars as though there is no climate crisis.
It’s easy to ignore unpleasant scenarios.
Until they’re at our doorstep.
In 2018 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned us that climate catastrophe is near — in the form of more floods, wildfires, droughts.
Why are we shrugging this danger off?
Part of it has to do with our own comfort level. It’s hard to be inconvenienced now for a long-term goal.
We tell ourselves, “It won’t happen here.”
But there’s no “here anymore. We all connected. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.
Without action we’re just opening the flood gate to catastrophe.
Readers, why do you think we ignore the looming consequences of climate change?