DENVER (CBS4) – Severe thunderstorms bring several hazards to Colorado every spring and summer, including two dangers that can be devastating and sometimes overlooked.
While lightning and tornadoes are obvious hazards, strong wind and large hail can be just as dangerous.
As thunderstorms grow, occasionally we see large pockets of cold air develop inside the storm.
This happens either by the formation or evaporation of precipitation inside the cloud.
Because the cooled air is heavier than its surroundings, it accelerates downward, sometimes at a high rate of speed.
When this air slams into the ground, it spreads out in all directions, and can cause damage that resembles a tornado.
These “straight line” winds can exceed 100 miles per hour.
If these winds are less than 2.5 miles across they’re called microbursts and if larger they’re macrobursts.
Severe winds can cause extensive damage, injuries and death and are extremely dangerous to aviation.
Hail is another major threat in Colorado.
In fact, the Front Range of the Rockies between Pueblo and Cheyenne has a very high frequency of hail and is often called the “Hail Capital” of the United States.
Hail forms as supercooled liquid water droplets inside of a cloud freeze onto small ice crystals.
Strong updraft winds move the hail up and down in a motion similar to that of juggling.
With each trip through the cloud the stones grow larger and larger until their weight overcomes the strength of the updraft and they fall to the ground.
Hailstones can cause tremendous damage to houses, vehicles and crops and can also be life threatening to both humans and animals.