High-elevation tornadoes unusual, not rare in Colorado

PARK COUNTY - When we look for tornadoes we typically look east, toward the plains. But Sunday, Colorado again proved why it prefers to be unpredictable. Two tornadoes touched down at elevations above 8,000 feet.

One of them even caught the National Weather Service off guard.

There's no mistaking it, when you see one, a towering tornado spinning, spewing out power. But when that funnel is tucked-in or behind a ridge, you don't see that every day.

"Some people will say the mountains will prevent tornadoes, but they don't," said Nezette Rydell.

Rydell, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Boulder, says while they're unusual, high elevation tornadoes are not rare.

"It doesn't have to be a super cell to kill you," Rydell said.

It's not the norm to see them at high altitudes, but tornadoes Sunday in Fairplay and Lake George prove they can, and do happen in the mountains.

"Just because you're in the mountains doesn't keep you safe from tornadoes," said Rydell.

Fairplay sits at around 10,000 feet, Lake George 8,000. One even formed last July near Pikes Peak, at 14,000 feet.

"I saw dust and debris, I heard the windows shattering," said one witness in Fairplay. "I saw the funnel cloud up in that direction."

People in Fairplay first told the weather service about the tornado just after 11 a.m. Sunday. Forecasters initially didn't see any rotation on their radar. But this one stuck around several minutes on the ground, unusual because mountainous terrain usually prevents that.

"Just because the distance between the cloud and ground becomes condensed," said Rydell.

There's not enough room. It's why super cells typically form over the plains, not in Park County.

"It's very hard to get the in-flow (of air) and keep it organized to have that lower half of a storm cell," Rydell said.

Not always as organized as a meteorologist would put it, but still dangerous.

"That's still a tornado," Rydell said. "It's still capable of blowing some debris around, as we certainly saw yesterday."

And we'll surely, see again

No injuries were reported following the tornadoes in Fairplay and Lake George. The Lake George tornado did bring significant damage to an RV park.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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