Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content WEATHER UPDATE: Tornado leaves 'catastrophic' damage

MATT STEINER Updated: June 8, 2012 at 12:00 am

11 a.m. UPDATE

Mark and Debbie Studer were left cleaning up debris and rounding up livestock Friday morning after a tornado ripped off the roof and kitchen wall of their home northwest of Ramah.

Simla Fire Chief John Hillmann simply said "catastrophic" when asked to assess damage to the house on top of a hill at 23760 Elbert County Road 82 from Thursday night's storm.

"Luckily they had a basement," Hillmann said of the Studers. "A lot of homes out here don't have basements."

Elbert County Commissioner Del Schwab said the tornado hit just after dark and struck with almost no warning. The couple living in the tattered home had just 30 seconds to take shelter before the house was thrashed.

The roof lay in a field about a half mile away and parts of the house could be seen littering the treeless landscape.

A full-size Ford pickup truck lay on it's side in the yard. Hillmann said the tornado picked it up and slammed it into an RV that had a four-foot wide hole in the side.

"They're out here cleaning up, taking care of themselves," Schwab said with the open kitchen just a few yards behind him.

"This is the most devastated home I have ever seen," he said.

The Simla Fire Department received a call just after 8 p.m. Thursday that smoke was coming from the house. Hillmann said crews struggled to get to the home as a "wall of rain and hail" hovered over Ramah - between Simla and the path of the tornado.

Mark Studer said water was pouring into the basement as they took shelter.

"It was over faster than it hit," Studer said.

The Studers have chickens and cows that survived the storm.

"The cows are OK. The chickens are OK. Even the cat," Debbie Studer said

John Shipper, who lives northwest of the Studers, brought the couple rolls, muffins and beef jerky. He also had freshly baked cookies he said were given by Nancy Harris of Simla.

As of 10:30 a.m. Friday, eight homes were found to have storm damage, mostly from wind and hail, Hillmann said. About 50 volunteers were combing the plains trying to determine if others were damaged.

One person in Elbert County was reported to have been injured by flying glass.

8 a.m. Friday UPDATE

It looks like Friday is going to bring a reprieve from two days of thunderstorms and destructive hail in the Colorado Springs area.

Cloudy conditions lingered throughout Colorado Springs on Friday morning, but the National Weather Service predicts clearing conditions and sunny skies for the day.

Authorities are assessing damage and at least one road remains closed after strong storms skipped across Colorado and southern Wyoming.

The Colorado Department of Transportation said Friday U.S. 85 remains closed north of Greeley because of flooding from Thursday's storms.

A grocery store in central Colorado Springs was closed overnight as golf ball sized hail apparently smashed a skylight near the entrance to the King Soopers at the corner of Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard.

A security guard at the King Soopers was turning away customers at about 2 a.m., saying repairs were being made. The manager told The Gazette Friday morning that the store reopened at 6 a.m.

Weather service spotters were reporting hail in many parts of El Paso County from mid afternoon Thursday to early Friday morning. At about 9 p.m. one spotter said they received 2 1/2 inch hail in the northeastern part of the county.

Early reports Friday indicate that the heaviest precipitation resulted in just under 0.2 inches Thursday east of the Powers Boulevard corridor in Colorado Springs. Those totals were significantly lower than reported Wednesday. There were reports of up to four inches of precipitation Wednesday in central Colorado Springs.

Elbert County officials reported two tornadoes in the area of Simla Thursday night. There was one minor injury and damage to eight houses, including two that were missing roofs and others with broken windows.

The Simla fire chief and Elbert County commissioner will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Friday. The Gazette will attend and have updates after.

Elbert also received a report of one minor injury and standing water on two roads.

High temperatures are expected to reach the upper 80s in El Paso County on Friday with calm, clear conditions lasting through Saturday. Lows will drop into the mid 50s overnight, according to the weather service.

10:30 p.m. Thursday UPDATE

Eastern El Paso County continues to see the worst of Thursday night's severe thunderstorm warning. The intersection of Highway 94 and Calhan Highway was flooded just after 10 p.m., according to reports from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

The Hanover High School Gym is open and is acting as an emergency shelter in Hanover area due to a tornado warning.

9:30 p.m.Thursday UPDATE

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for southeast El Paso County until 10:15 p.m.

9:25 p.m.Thursday UPDATE

El Paso County Sheriff's Office reports power lines down on Calhan Road north of Calhan, and damage to a residence on West Ranch Road in eastern El Paso County.

9:10 p.m.Thursday UPDATE

Heavy rain and hail reported in Colorado Springs, especially along the Powers Boulevard corridor from Platte Avenue all the way north. Light rain was falling near The Citadel mall, the hardest hit area in Wednesday's storm.

9 p.m.Thursday UPDATE

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office received mutual aid requests from Simla, in Elbert County, earlier Wednesday evening. A few tornadoes touched down in the area and local fire crews were dealing with a small brush fire, said Lt. Jeff Kramer, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

There have been no damages to structures or injuries reported due to storm activity in El Paso County, Kramer said.

8:45 p.m. UPDATE

The tornado warning for eastern El Paso County has expired, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service has also issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Colorado Springs, extending to western and eastern El Paso County. The storm warning remains in effect until just before 10 p.m.

A flash flood warning is effective until 11 p.m. for El Paso County. One to two inches of rainfall per hours is expected to fall.

Forecasters caution that severe thunderstorms can bring torrential rains, dangerous lighning, and flash floods--especially dangerous in the wake of Wednesday's damage.

Residents in northeast Colorado Springs were already reporting ping-pong sized hail stones pelting that area of town around 8:45 p.m.

8:30 p.m.Thursday UPDATE

A severe thunderstorm warming has been issued for north central El Paso County, effective until 9:30 p.m. Colorado Springs could see some of the thunderstorm, although rain seemed to be concentrating on the northeast sections of town, near Briargate and Stetson Hills.

8:20 p.m.Thursday UPDATE

At least two tornadoes have been reported on the ground near Calhan Thursday evening and several were reported by Elbert County officials.

No reports of injuries or damages had been made by 8 p.m.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for eastern El Paso County, effective until at least 8:45 p.m.

Just after 7 p.m. a tornado touched down seven miles north of Calhan, near Ramah, and weather-spotters reported that the tornado was making its way south. Residents of Ramah, Brush, Ellicott, and other eastern El Paso County towns are advised to take cover.

About an hour later, another tornado was reported on the ground about five miles east of Calhan, according to emergency radio traffic.

Patrick Cioffi, a weather service meteorologist, said Colorado Springs has a 30 percent chance of being hit by another big storm late Thursday evening.

The weather system could produce 1-inch  hail and a possibly a tornado, he said. If it comes, the storm probably won't be as bad as Wednesday night, when weather spotters reported as much as 4 inches of rain in two hours.

"Last night was a very rare event," he said. "The fact that the storm set up where it did made it what it was. There's a chance it could happen again, but it's very rare."

He said the biggest concern is the additional rainfall on saturated areas. Those conditions are ripe for flash floods and have prompted the warning, he said.

When the soil is already moist, the extra water makes it even more likely to slip away and flood, he said. The area of most concern in the county is in the city of Colorado Springs, he said.

Emergency crews with the city of Colorado Springs Streets Division were spread across town Wednesday night, responding to a veritable deluge of calls for assistance.

"We were just scattered everywhere, with all those calls," said Amaro Montemayor, acting operations manager.

At least 60 people took to the streets again today, to push away mountains of hail, and to repair water damage to the roads. Three streets crews will be hard at work all day Friday, Montemayor said, hauling away hail mounds and doing some final touches on the clean-up job.

The first team is scheduled to start work at 3 a.m. Friday at the intersection of Academy and Union boulevards.

In a debrief session Thursday, the city's Office of Emergency Management determined several additional steps to be taken by clean-up crews in the event of severe flash floods Thursday night. The steps include equipping utilities trucks with barricades for road closures, adding staff to the 911 dispatch center, and having extra fire fighters and police on call.

Travelers also should be warned that several counties north are under a tornado watch until 8 p.m. Thursday evening. Those counties are: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Jefferson, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Washington and Weld.

In the Denver area, eastern Adams and Arapahoe counties are expected to bear the brunt of the storm, with heavy rains and wind gusts up to 40 mph. The forecasters say there is chance that these storms could be upgraded to severe.

June 6 Storm Facts and Figures

  • The most rainfall was recorded near Templeton Gap Road and Austin Bluffs Parkway, at 3.75 inches.
  • In places Fountain Creek was flowing at 10,000 to 14,000 cubic feet per second.
  • 911 dispatchers handled more than 200 calls in a two hour span, and went to Priority 1 status, giving preference to life-threatening situations and crimes in progress calls.
  • The fire department responded to 82 incidents, 25 of which were rescues. Thirteen rescues were for people who were stranded, sitting on top of cars to escape flood waters.
  • Four police vehicles were damaged during rescue efforts.

Stay with Gazette.com for continuing coverage throughout the day.

TRAFFIC: One stoplight -- at Chelton Road and Santa Rosa Street -- was out, but has been repaired. The electrical box for that light was broken when it was covered with four feet of hail, said Laura Neumann, chief of staff for Colorado Springs.

Snowplows were called to that area to clear deep hail. Drivers should treat that intersection as a four-way stops; but avoid the area if possible.

For live traffic updates, check out the Gazette's traffic page.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Residents of neighborhoods near The Citadel described a night of horror as they continued to shovel hail from their driveways and dig out cars buried to their bumpers in hail, leaves and debris that washed down the streets.

 "I've been here 49 years, and I've never seen anything close to it," said H. Freidlund.

City crews are trying to clear gutters and drains so the melting hail has somewhere to go. Debris is piled high on sidewalks near Santa Rose and Chelton. Neumann said the city street team is still assessing the damage and doesn't yet have an estimate of what it will cost to clean up or know exactly how long the clean up will take.

FORECAST: The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for El Paso County Thursday evening. A tornado warning expired about 8:40 p.m.

PRECIPITATION:

In the worst-hit areas of the city, rains came down as fast as four inches in two hours, said Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach in a Thursday press conference. Trained weather spotters for the National Weather Service reported 4.12 inches of precipitation in central Colorado Springs. Bach called the storm something that happens "once in 100 years."

However, the rain was not considered a record for the city. The official precipitation level is taken at the Colorado Springs Airport where 0.37 inches were recorded Wednesday.

The June 6 record is 2.51 inches, set in 1977.

Weather spotters recorded hail as big as 1.5 inches.

 

SEND US YOUR PHOTOS:If you have photos from the hail or the aftermath, email them to us at citydesk@gazette.com or post them to our Facebook wall at facebook.com/springsgazette.

At the Gazette’s Facebook page, readers shared their flood stories. Adrianna Abril-Lewis said her patio glass table was shattered by hail and Morgan Fetter said the rain lifted pieces of road in the Briargate area and left potholes.

Jodi Nelson-Sandoval also said she had a rough night. She posted that her back yard is slanted towards her back door and the water flooded her house.

“It was completely insane” she wrote. “And my husband was out of town! Thank heaven for family!"

See more photos here from the storm.

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