2 confirmed tornadoes in Northwest Colorado on Sunday | SteamboatToday.com
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2 confirmed tornadoes in Northwest Colorado on Sunday

A funnel cloud spins between Sand Mountain and the Sleeping Giant west of Steamboat Springs in this photo taken by Rich Whitney on Sunday afternoon.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — If you had started the 1996 film “Twister” at the moment when a tornado touched down about eight miles southwest of Clark on Sunday morning, you’d barely be done with the opening credits before the tornado was over.

The tornado, a EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, caused no damage, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

It touched down at 10:18 a.m. and lasted two minutes. Its path was about 30 yards wide and about one-third of a mile long. Winds in the storm reached about 65 miles per hour. The funnel cloud associated with the storm existed for about 10 minutes.

The National Weather Service used eyewitness accounts, videos and photos taken of the storm to confirm where exactly the storm passed and that it met the criteria for a tornado. A photo taken by Amilia Griffith through a rainy windshield, along with a video Andrew Moore posted to the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Facebook page, confirmed that the storm created a rotating dust cloud on the ground.

It was only the third tornado recorded in Routt County since 1950.

About 45 minutes after the tornado touched down, a second EF-0 tornado was spotted about 19 miles southwest of Walden in Jackson County, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. No damage from that tornado has been reported. It was the second tornado recorded in Jackson County since 1950.

“With two of them in one day, the environment was definitely ready for tornadic development,” said Julie Malingowski, a meteorologist at the Weather Service Grand Junction office.

Both tornadoes were landspout tornadoes, meaning they were not produced from a mesocyclone, a rotating vortex within a thunderstorm. Instead, these tornadoes were produced by downdrafts from the storm that twisted into a rotation.

The tornado near Clark surprised many Routt County residents and Weather Service forecasters. The Weather Service typically issues a tornado watch when atmospheric conditions create a significant risk for tornadoes, Malingowski said. No tornado watches have been issued on the Western Slope in the past nine years, she added.

“What we could see on radar was a little bit of broad rotation; however, with the climatological history of tornadoes in the Routt County area, there was nothing well-defined to let us know that a tornado could develop out of that storm,” Malingowski said.

That’s why no tornado watch was issued, she said.

A tornado warning is typically issued when severe thunderstorms producing a tornado are occurring, but the Weather Service did not receive reports of the funnel cloud until about an hour after it dissipated. Without knowing a tornado was on the ground, the Weather Service didn’t issue a warning, either.

Malingowski and another meteorologist traveled to Routt County on Monday to investigate after receiving photos and videos of the storm in multiple phases.

Malingowski said when a tornado occurs, a funnel cloud usually straightens out into a vertical column, as seen in footage taken near Elk River Estates by Brittany Dick. The tornado eventually dissipates into a rope-like funnel cloud. Because there was photographic evidence of the storm in both of these phases, the Weather Service believed it was possible that the cloud created circulation on the ground.

Weather Service meteorologists worked with the Routt County Office of Emergency Management to determine if the storm caused any damage on the ground. While they didn’t find a path of damage, the meteorologists were able to pinpoint the likely track of the center of circulation by speaking to eyewitnesses, Malingowski said. After having these conversations, the meteorologists received Griffith’s photo, confirming that the storm reached the ground.

Amilia Griffith took this image of a tornado, in which a small rotating dust cloud on the ground can be seen. The photo allowed the National Weather Service to confirm that a tornado occurred. Photo courtesy the National Weather Service.

Malingowski said the Weather Service confirms an average of one to two weak tornadoes per year in Western Colorado. The Weather Service suspects that more occur than are reported, but with the area’s sparse population, there isn’t always someone around to witness a storm.

In Routt County, the Weather Service has recorded two tornadoes since 1950 — an F-1 10 miles northeast of Oak Creek on May 30, 1980, and an F-0 in an unknown location May 5, 1995. Eight tornadoes have been recorded in Moffat County over the same period.

Malingowski encouraged residents to contact the Weather Service in Grand Junction if they see a funnel cloud or damage from severe weather at 970-243-7007. She said the agency frequently relies on photos, videos and eyewitness accounts to verify exactly what is going on during severe weather.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter, @elHasenbeck.

More videos of the storm


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