My garden’s gone to hail

A version of this article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise September 14, 2008.

Last week an otherwise nasty heatwave was abruptly interrupted by a hailstorm that appeared out of nowhere, beating the hoof out of my beautiful irises and poppies. My greyhounds trotted around the house, looking up at the ceiling with their ears in odd positions. Ten minutes later, the storm vanished into the ether, leaving behind an inch of hail on the ground. A couple hours after that, the hail was melted and the whole thing seemed like a weird dream.

We Coloradans don’t run around bragging about our placid, predictable weather. We boast about hailstones the size of golf balls, and tornadoes and 130 mph winds. One of our craziest weather fables – though I doubt anyone is still around who remembers it – happened June 3, 1921.

The big news that week was that the city of Pueblo just about got washed away by the Arkansas and Fountain River flood, the worst catastrophe in Pueblo’s history. It destroyed entire neighborhoods along with much of downtown, and killed hundreds of people. Colorado was definitely on a rampage that Friday, because 130 miles away, the Broomfield area also got socked by a monster flood and hail storm. According to the Colorado Transcript, the hail belt was about two miles wide. It completely destroyed the wheat, hay, alfalfa and sugar beet crops on a number of big area ranches. An impressive list of pioneer Broomfielders lost their season’s planting, including the Shoop family, Grattan, Wick, Church, Kettner, Coak, Tucker, Walker, Evans, Sauer, Paulson, Metz, and others. The newspaper reported that hail stones as large as pigeon eggs had “stripped everything bare and piled up as deep as two and three inches.”

Hail storm. Photo by Quinn Norton (from Wikimedia Commons).

An even wilder version of the story appeared in the Fort Collins Courier. A Fort Collins man named Kissock and his relatives were travelling through Broomfield when the storm hit. They were just able to scramble out of their brand new Chevrolet roadster before it was washed away in floodwaters. They were later rescued by locals “after standing in water two or three feet deep for four hours.”

Word reached Fort Collins that the Kissocks had been gone missing and friends of the family headed down on a rescue mission. All the creeks were raging out of their banks so the rescuers couldn’t get to Broomfield except by way of Denver. When they finally arrived, they couldn’t find the Kissock group, but they did locate the Kissock’s Chevrolet roadster. It was water-logged and mudsoaked after having been towed out of a flooded creek by the good people of Broomfield, along with a number of other drowned cars. The rescue party later reported to the Courier that “they saw banks of hail at Broomfield which were five feet high, twenty-four hours after the storm. The waters in the creek east of Broomfield had subsided but gathered against fences and hedges were piles of the hail stones which had frozen into a solid mass, many of them six inches thick and a foot and a half long, and piled several feet high in numerous places.”

The Kissock group later made it safely back to Fort Collins, as did their rescue party. Other newspaper reports said that over 400 people were stranded in Broomfield while trying to travel between Denver and Boulder, many houses were washed away, two area mines were flooded, and 11 people were killed. (Sources: Colorado Transcript, Fort Collins Courier.)

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