Mother Nature unleashed her full fury in 2013, dominating the news in Weld County with a massive flood and a devastating hailstorm.
The 51st state initiative, the continuing oil and gas boom, the education election, the resurgence of downtown, selective gun control enforcement and the USA Pro Challenge bike race were also among the top stories of 2013.
1 The flood
This was one of the biggest stories in Weld County’s history, not just in 2013, both in the damage the flood caused and the way residents responded to it.
The damage was incredible. The South Platte River, at its peak, rose a remarkable 7 feet above its all-time record flood stage.
Hundreds of families lost everything. Crops were devastated. Evans’ wastewater treatment plant was knocked out, leaving a significant chunk of its residents without the ability to use their toilets or showers.
U.S. 34 east of Greeley broke apart like a child’s LEGO set. So many things residents never thought about, such as irrigation ditches, needed extensive repairs. And all of this was just in Weld County. The damage was widespread and at times catastrophic all over the Front Range and northern Colorado.
But the response to the flood was just as incredible and far-reaching.
Greeley-Evans School District 6, led by Bella Romero Elementary School, showed that school isn’t just a place to learn — it’s a second home.
A church, Journey Christian, received thousands of pieces of clothing, toiletries and other various needs and either handed them out or hand-delivered them using a system as efficient as Amazon.com’s planned drones. Even a 10-year-old organized a 5K to raise money.
The floodwaters receded, as they do, but the recovery continues.
The flood and the community response was the biggest story of 2013.
2 51st state
An initiative from our own Weld County commissioners to break away from the state and form North Colorado was the second-biggest story of the year.
Voters, even those in Weld County, rejected the proposal, but it did get the attention of the folks in Denver.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, for instance, promised to make more visits to rural areas and to listen harder to the concerns of Weld residents.
Whether the divide between urban and rural Colorado was as large as the commissioners would have us believe, the effort did appear to inspire both sides to attempt to work out their differences.
3 Hail storm
The hail storm that hit Aug. 3 must be feeling a little shortchanged, as it surely would have been Weld’s biggest weather event of the year were it not for the September deluge that overfilled our rivers.
The hail storm caused millions in damage all over Weld, in both crops and to homes, and it’s still the reason you’re seeing roofing crews working around the clock. Funnel clouds and tornadoes were reported but not confirmed.
The hailstones were as large as baseballs and some piles were so thick residents had to use shovels to remove them.
4 Oil and gas boom
Throughout the year, several oil and gas companies operating in Weld County continued to report double-digit growth in production and sales and, in some cases, billion-dollar investments into the local economy.
Those numbers keep increasing each year and are expected to increase in the next decade as innovation continues to drive down drilling and production costs for operators.
Weld County production has been on pace to surpass 80 percent of the state’s oil production for the year, marching toward a record high for the state’s 100-year history of drilling. Anadarko and Noble, the two largest companies operating in Weld, each are reporting an average production of more than 100,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Infrastructure also is growing, with more gas-processing plants coming online and a series of pipelines for water, oil and gas that will take hundreds of trucks off the road.
5 Education election
Greeley’s city races were relatively tame, but the statewide push to make school boards more conservative affected (or infected, depending on how some saw it) the race for District 6.
The so-called “Fab Four” candidates sent out advertisements billing the slate as the conservative choice for Greeley. Ultimately, only one of the four, Steve Hall, was elected, and many, including our editorial board, saw Hall as a viable candidate without the additional hype.
Amendment 66, the tax hike that would have reformed school finance in Colorado and resulted in more funding for District 6, was soundly rejected by Weld voters and voters statewide.
6 Downtown revival
Downtown got its own music hall, the Moxi Theater, a couple new restaurants and news of more to come, and plans for the chain Tilted Kilt to join the district’s successful bar scene.
Even a store specifically for nerds opened up (aptly named the Nerd Store). All that coupled with the continued success of downtown’s Go-Cup district Friday nights in the summer and other fun activities, such as First Fridays, means downtown, not uptown, staked a claim as the place to be.
7 Selective law enforcement
A sheriff refusing to enforce the law got lots of attention, including from the New York Times, so Weld Sheriff John Cooke gets a nod here in our top stories of the year.
Cooke refused to enforce two new state gun-control laws put in place after the Aurora movie theater shooting. Cooke became a hero to gun-rights activists everywhere for the move, a title Cooke embraced when concealed-carry permits skyrocketed in Weld.
8 USA Pro Challenge
The national bike race, featuring some of the top riders in the world, whooshed through Windsor on Aug. 24. An estimated 2,500 spectators came to Windsor’s downtown area, along with the thousands who lined Colo. 392 and residential streets, for literally a glimpse of those riders before they continued through Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins.