Updated: June 9, 2014 at 11:49 am
Sue Cranston watched Sunday as storm clouds swirled over Lake George and a tornado's funnel touched down on the RV and mobile home park at the southside of the lake by U.S. Highway 24.
She saw the tornado rip through the park and destroy six RVs in its path, tossing pieces of the vehicles high in the air before dissipating into the ominous dark gray sky above.
"It was swirling over the lake and then it came down on the ground. It hit one of our neighbor's homes and carried away chunks of it," said Cranston, executive director of the Indigo Mountain Nature Center. "It was such a scary thing to watch, thankfully no one was hurt."
Everyone got out safely before a tornado touched down on a mobile home and recreational vehicle park near Lake George and destroyed six RVs Sunday. Severe weather along the Front Range prompted a tornado warning for south and central El Paso County and severe thunderstorm and tornado watches for most of eastern Colorado, according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
Eight tornados touched down in Colorado Sunday, according to the weather service's Storm Prediction Center. Two tornados were reported in Park County over Lake George and Fairplay, one in Elbert County, three in Weld County over Grover, Prospect Valley and Roggen, one in Aurora and one north of Palmer Lake in Douglas County, records show.
The Park County Sheriff's Office had its hands full when two tornados touched down within minutes of each other about 11 a.m., said sheriff's spokeswoman Linda Balough.
The first tornado hit south of Fairplay and damaged the roof of a home but no injuries were reported, Balough said. The second tornado hit the Lake George RV park.
"We spent a long time watching the weather radars and in close communication with the weather service, and sent the reverse 911 call to everyone in the county because we really didn't know what the storm was going to do," Balough said.
The Lake George Community Center on Highway 24 was opened as an overnight shelter for those displaced by the tornado.
The tornado also uprooted a large tree and damaged a fence at the south end of the nature center, a half-mile down the road from the RV park, Cranston said.
"All of our animals were a little shaken, but they're all safe. We've got a group of volunteers who will come and help us cut up the tree and remove it, as well as fix the fence," Cranston said.
Denise Kelly, 45, has lived at the southern end of 11 Mile Canyon, about 9 miles west of Lake George, for nearly two decades and said the tornado was unusual but fascinating. An avid photographer, Kelly had her camera ready and captured several images of the funnel cloud as it formed and touched down by the lake.
"We heard about the tornado hitting Fairplay, so we kept watching the sky and saw these massive dark clouds twist until the funnel started coming down," Kelly said. "This doesn't happen very often, so while it's scary, it's still interesting to watch. I'm just glad no one got hurt."
The Aurora Fire Department said a tornado touched down near the Blackstone Country Club southeast of Denver, causing one minor injury and flipping an empty semi-trailer.
A severe thunderstorm warning and tornado watch for El Paso County were cancelled by 5 p.m., the weather service said.
In northern El Paso County, hail up to an inch in diameter fell over Black Forest and Monument. Police in northeastern Colorado Springs reported heavy rain but no flooding or hail damage.
A thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado and quarter-size hail was spotted south of Hanover about 2:30 p.m. moving east at about 40 mph.
The worst of the storm was over for El Paso County by early evening, said Weather Service meteorologist Pamela Evenson.
"We are anticipating very strong winds up to 60 or 70 mph, but the storm is moving east and it looks like it will dissipate overnight," Evenson said.
Although tornados are uncommon in Colorado's mountains, they are not unheard of. A weak, short-lived tornado touched down northeast of Mount Evans' summit in July 2012 at a near-record elevation of 11,900 feet, the weather service said.
An upper level pressure disturbance Sunday was coupled with moisture that was pushed far enough west into the mountains during high temperature hours, allowing tornados to form, said meteorologist Frank Cooper with Boulder's weather service center.
"We had a significant upper level system coming in from the northwest, that was the main ingredient that triggered the tornados over the higher elevations," Cooper explained. "Just a lot of instability and strong wind shears that moved the storms quickly, getting those huge clouds to swirl and form tornados."
Cooper said the strength of the tornados that hit Park County and the damage they caused had not been officially surveyed by Sunday evening, but he estimated they ranged in the lower F0 or F1 categories.
Isolated thunderstorms were predicted to return to higher terrain Tuesday afternoon and evening, with the main threats being lightning and brief periods of localized heavy rainfall, the weather service predicts.