FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A pair of tornadoes touched down in Colorado on Nov. 4, 1922.
The tornadoes were the latest tornadoes ever documented in the state. There has never been a documented tornado in December or January in Colorado.
That's not the only thing that made those twisters so unusual. They also hit in the morning hours, and they were both killers.
Data shows that 92% of all Colorado tornadoes since 1955 occurred between noon and midnight.
The 1922 twisters killed six people, which is the second deadliest day in Colorado tornado history. The last tornado fatality in the state was in the Windsor tornado of 2008.
The stories of this tragic tornado outbreak have faded over the last century and were nearly lost in the layers of history until they were recently unearthed by Colorado State University (CSU) climatologist Russ Schumacher.
"For someone that studies this stuff for a living, it was especially exciting to dig into those history books and see how people were talking about it," Schumacher said. "The newspaper reports were particularly detailed and personal."
He used the reference book Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991, as a basis for information and then launched into archives of newspaper clippings for early November 1922.
"And so, the top stories were: The election, so there were reports about who won the various elections and then this tornado kills four people in southeast Colorado," said Schumacher.
The newspapers reported a family of four killed in Sugar City east of Pueblo. Then hours later, two more were killed east of Holyoke. Some historical records show one fatality in Holyoke, a local teacher, but the Phillips County Herald reported a second death.
There were no radars or satellites or even a way to quickly communicate a weather forecast. Coloradans of November 1922 were likely taken completely by surprise.
Schumacher took what little weather data there was from that time and recreated the meteorology to see what type of warning the tech of today might have provided.
"And it actually turned out really well, I was a bit surprised at how closely it matched the tracks of the storms, at least as well as we know them from those news reports," Schumacher said.
He said it was a very typical late autumn trough that dug deep into the Four Corners region, but what was unusual was the amount of moisture that made it so far northwest of the Gulf of Mexico.
He also noted that the vertical windshear, the change of direction and windspeed with height, was very intense for a November system.
Clearly unusual circumstances, but strong tornadoes would have been in the forecast at least a day in advance.
Schumacher says there’s a lesson for us all in the uncovered tale of this rare storm: never take your eyes off Colorado weather.
"The atmosphere has made it happen once, and that probably means it could happen again at some point in the future."
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