Colorado is a beautiful place to live and a tourist destination, but residents and visitors must still contend with natural disasters like everywhere else.
The diverse terrain and geography of the state means you will also have a similar diversity of natural disasters just waiting to turn your life upside down.
Compared to other states, your overall risk is only moderate in Colorado, but you’ll need to be prepared for a surprising variety of events if you want to stay prepared.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you all about what you should expect if you are living in or visiting Colorado.
As mentioned above, Colorado is a state that is known for diverse and beautiful landscapes, but also equally diverse natural disasters.
Where some states have a high risk of natural disasters associated with the specific season, Colorado can get it year round.
Although many events like storms and wildfires aren’t particularly known for their intensity, the ones that do happen occur regularly, and some standout events have been record-breakers in the recorded history of the country…
Whether you live in the lower and flatter plains to the east or the hilly and mountainous ranges of the west, you’re going to have to contend with everything from avalanches and mudslides to frequent lightning strikes, devastating winter storms, huge hail and potentially even severe droughts.
Compared to other states, Colorado falls squarely in the middle of the pack for overall disaster risk, but depending on where you live your risk factors might actually be much, much lower overall compared to the rest of the country.
We’ll break down the most likely natural disasters that you can face in Colorado below…
Mudslides can be a truly devastating natural disaster, one that can occur seemingly without warning, but it’s funny that they are also one that most people seem to forget about – until they happen…
A mudslide is typically defined as a sudden, massive movement of any soil, rock or artificial filler down a slope that is carried by gravity and momentum.
Mudslides can be big or small, but anything larger than the smallest has the power to cause serious property destruction and easily kill humans and animals.
The largest mudslides are truly apocalyptic events that can erase entire sections of communities!
Mudslides are most likely to occur after periods of heavy rain or fast, sustained snowmelt. If you are anywhere on or at the base of hills and mountains, or downstream of natural channels and water features near this kind of terrain, you are at risk of mudslides.
One of the worst in the state’s history and one of the largest in the 20th century took place on the Grand Mesa in 2014.
Heavy rains caused an entire part of that sheer rock wall to collapse and race downhill at well over 100 mph.
That event took place on private property and caused only a few deaths (victims never recovered), but don’t let out a sigh of relief: mudslides can happen near any elevated or hilly terrain.
One of the most iconic and also most destructive events in mountainous areas, such as Colorado, is the avalanche.
An avalanche is similar to a mudslide, only you’re dealing with a huge volume of snow instead of soil and rock. Avalanches usually occur after a period of heavy snowfall taking place after a stretch of warm, dry conditions.
This is obviously a massive threat to anyone who lives, plays or works on a mountainside and we commonly hear about hikers and skiers being taken by these incredibly destructive events.
That being said, avalanches can prove to be totally destructive to anything in their path, especially if they start high up on a mountainside and gain mass and speed as they descend.
You should know that it is avalanches that are responsible for the most deaths yearly out of all the natural disasters on this list.
Any place in the state that is on or adjacent to steep slopes that receive a lot of snowfall are at considerable risk. The High Country region in particular faces the highest risk overall.
You might not think of a little bit of hail as a natural disaster, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the record-breaking whoppers that Colorado weather produces and produces regularly.
In fact, Colorado is among the most hail storm-affected states in the nation, racking up a gargantuan bill of greater than $4.5 billion dollars since 2010.
Although deaths and serious injuries are rare, they do occur and having a house or vehicle that is perforated by large and damaging hailstones can make you more vulnerable to inclement weather and other conditions.
All parts of the state are potentially affected, but the Front Range is the hail “capital” of the state, so you better make sure your roof and your auto and home insurance policies are up to snuff if you live in this region.
4. Winter Storms
Colorado is known for intense, cold and snowy winters. Everyone knows that, and indeed that is part of the appeal for many tourists: winter hiking and skiing opportunities abound and are truly excellent throughout the state.
No native or long-time residents of Colorado can claim as much if they aren’t prepared for harsh winter weather, but even for these cold-adapted folks, there are many nasty surprises in store.
Truly harsh winter storms can literally blanket entire regions in many feet of snow, in case buildings and ice, make roads and bridges impassable and leave hundreds of thousands without power for extended periods of time.
Roof collapses are common thanks to the weight of so much snow being dumped in such a short period of time.
Record-breaking storms have occurred in 2003, 2006 and 2007, with each one causing tens of millions of dollars in damages, multiple deaths and the loss of many livestock animals.
This is a statewide issue, and one you must be prepared to face in detail if you want to live in Colorado.
5. Lightning Strikes
Although Colorado gets its fair share of serious thunderstorms, and even a few tornadoes, it is actually lightning that is statistically one of the worst components of these storm events for the state.
Colorado averages about half a million lightning strikes per year and around a dozen injuries, along with a couple of deaths to go with them.
Doesn’t sound like much in the grand scheme of things as you aren’t likely to get struck by lightning anywhere, but your chances are higher in Colorado than just about any place else. Colorado comes in at fourth place for lightning strike deaths and injuries according to the National Weather Service.
However, these lightning strikes and associated injuries and fatalities are not evenly distributed throughout the state.
Folks who live at higher elevations in the mountains face a greater risk, and folks living in El Paso County are at the highest risk overall in the state.
Your chances of being struck by lightning anywhere, including in Colorado, are always quite low but never zero, so you must plan accordingly to reduce risks during sudden storm events if you live in the most affected regions.
Considering how much rain and snow Colorado gets you might think that a drought would be the last disaster you’ve got to worry about, but you’d be wrong. Trust me; I was as surprised as you probably are now!
Rising temperatures over the past decade or so have led to reduced ice and snow packs that normally help to recharge Colorado’s natural water sources, and also help to keep vegetation hydrated.
This drought causes all sorts of other issues, but can be deadly enough by itself: The USDA just declared the entire state as a natural disaster area because of drought in 2023.
This, as you might imagine, creates economic destruction by affecting farmers and other industries that depend on having copious water on hand.
There are many watering restrictions placed on citizens too, for any purpose. Sadly, this is one disaster threat that’s showing no signs of slowing down going forward into the decade, and it’s something you’ll have to plan for no matter where you live in Colorado.
Wildfires are shockingly common in Colorado, and out of all the disasters on this list, are the one that’s most likely to result in an official declaration of a state of emergency.
Wildfires affect the entire state, and the incidents across the state are going up in frequency and severity thanks to the aforementioned drought conditions.
Yearly since the turn of the millennium, Colorado has lost an average of 230,000 acres each and every year.
If you currently live in Colorado or are considering a move there, you need to think very hard about where you decide to settle.
Many Colorado news agencies have reported that roughly half the private properties in the state or at risk of destruction by wildfire in the next three decades
What are the Least Disaster-prone Places in Colorado?
It might sound grim all over in Colorado, but try to keep things in perspective: although the state suffers from a wide variety of natural disasters, the overall impact and risk is only average compared to the rest of the country, and much, much safer than several other states.
But, if you wanted to pick out the safest possible counties to live in throughout the state, look into Summit County, San Juan County, Eagle County, Chaffee County, and Conejos County.
According to Core Logic’s Climate Risk Analysis, these counties are among the most shielded from natural disasters in Colorado, and all are actually in the top 10 of the United States!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.