Jigsaw group research on the 2013 Colorado Floods

Main content

Students research a topic pertaining to the 2013 Colorado floods online, present the information they find, and summarize all information presented.

Learning Objectives

The objective of the activity is to familiarize students with climate and weather vocabulary while asking them to practice summarizing scientific information and presenting it, in their own words, to their peers.


  • Access to the Internet
  • PowerPoint or other presentation software and a projector


  1. Provide students with the Student Directions (below).
  2. Divide the class into six groups. Assign each group with one topic from the Student Directions.
  3. Have students follow the directions, reading the storm summary PDF and the links in their topic, doing additional research, and then meeting with the rest of their group to share what they learned.
  4. Have groups create presentation slides to describe their findings.
  5. Have student groups give a 3-5 minute presentation that answers their topic's questions.
  6. Instruct students to take notes during presentations and then write a page that summarizes all presentation topics.


Those who live on the Front Range of Colorado know that flash floods can happen but what happened in September of 2013 was "unprecedented." More than 11,000 people had to be evacuated from small mountain towns after an extraordinary amount of rain fell in a week - approximately 18 inches, which is about what the region receives in an average year. The resulting floods washed out nearly every road leading to the foothills on the west side of Boulder County.

Flash floods are short-term inundations of small areas such as a town or parts of a city, usually by tributaries and creeks. Heavy rain in a few hours can produce flash flooding even in places where little rain has fallen for weeks or months. If heavy rainfall occurs repeatedly over a wide area, then river flooding becomes more likely, in which the main rivers of a region swell and inundate large areas, sometimes well after rainfall has ended. The 1993 Midwest floods were caused by 77 events over several months where rainfall of greater than one inch occurred over areas 100 to 200 miles wide and 400 to 600 miles long. Both flash flooding and river flooding threaten life and property, although the former causes more deaths and the latter causes more property damage.

This Jigsaw/Expert Group research activity, designed for middle and high school students, encourages students to search for information online in local media and scientific reports in order to answer common flood-related questions that apply to the Colorado natural disaster. The objective of the activity is to familiarize students with climate and weather vocabulary while asking them to practice summarizing scientific information and presenting it, in their own words, to their peers.

Student Directions

  1. Start by reading Severe Flooding on the Colorado Front Range to learn about the September 2013 event.
  2. Become an expert on your topic by researching online. Check out the questions and topics related to your topic below.
  3. Meet with your group and prepare to make a presentation about your topic and what you learned. Remember to include:
    • What your topic is
    • The information you found
    • Your interpretation of the information you found
    • Where you found information
    • Why it’s important
  4. You will be responsible for presenting your findings to the rest of the class. Your presentation should be 3-5 minutes long.

Topic 1: Tell us the numbers.

Numbers can be compelling. So what were the storm totals and how can you compare that to something that your audience can understand? What are the normal rainfall and streamflow amounts for September in Colorado? What do the numbers mean (i.e. what’s an inch, a foot, an acre-foot, how much does a gallon weigh)? To get started, take a look at Record Rainfall. To get a sense of whether the rainfall was unusual, check out the rainfall totals listed at Heavy Precipitation: Extreme Events (NOAA National Climatic Data Center).

Topic 2: Tell us their stories.

There were many stories about people and community impacts during the floods. What were some of the local, state, and federal impacts? Give examples of different impacts and at least one case story of a person or family’s experience.  Use Google to research local reporting on the floods. Compare the sources and their points of view.

Topic 3: Tell us how it compares.

We know whether something is normal or not by comparing an event to past events. We know that much of the Front Range of Colorado lies in a floodplain, but how do the floods of 2013 compare to floods of the past? Choose at least two other floods to compare. The Colorado Historic Floods webpage is a good place to start your research.

Topic 4: Tell us the sequence of events.

The floods did not happen all in one day, there were many events that happened over the course of about a week. Make a timeline of events and give explanations for those events. The Flood Timeline webpage is a good place to start your research.

Topic 5: Tell us about the weather.

Was the storm forecasted? What were the weather events that led to the flood? Report the meteorological events that led to the flood. Use visual aids or drawings when possible. Make sure to find definitions of weather terms to explain to your audience. The Storm Meteorology webpage is a good place to get started.

Topic 6: Tell us about future concerns

There are people who say that climate change could have contributed to the rainfall event that led to these floods. What does this mean? How could changing the atmosphere change weather? Check out this NASA Earth Observatory climate change article to get started with your research and their article about the impact of climate change on natural disasters.