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Rare Mountain Tornado Rips Through Park County

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LAKE GEORGE, Colo. (CBS4) - An unusual tornado at 10,000 feet damaged half a dozen homes, destroyed trees and knocked out power near Fairplay in Park County. No one was injured.

“It was amazing. The amount of rain and then, all of a sudden, the hail. And the hail got progressively bigger. We had marble-sized hail,” Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener said.

The tornado also upended trailers as it tore through a Lake George RV park about 45 miles to the southeast.

“We heard great big huge trees falling right next to us and you could hear trailers rolling in the yard,” resident Heidi Gleghorn said.

She was cleaning her cabins at the park Sunday when she was warned a tornado was approaching. One resident refused to leave, so Gelghorn and others stayed, too.

“Next thing I know, trees are falling down on the house,” Gleghorn said. “It was completely insane and when we walked out, our entire park was destroyed.”

The National Climatic Data Center notes that it’s a myth that tornadoes don’t occur in mountainous regions. Although they’re most common east of the Rocky Mountains, weak twisters can form at higher altitudes. Tornadoes have been documented in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yellowstone National Park and, in 2012, a rare twister touched down near Mount Evans on July 29 at approximately 11,900 feet.

The 2012 tornado near Mount Evans (credit: Facebook)

The 2012 tornado near Mount Evans (credit: Facebook)

That afternoon, thunderstorms strengthened over the mountains and produced a weak, short-lived twister. They happen when cool air pools at the upper levels of a storm, and the differing temperatures and wind shear at that altitude cause a funnel-shaped cloud to drop.

They almost never touch the ground, but in this case, the air at the bottom of the storm was warm enough for the tornado to descend to the ground.

The National Weather Service estimated it was the second-highest tornado on record. On July 7, 2004, a tornado formed in Sequoia National Park in California at 12,000 feet.

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