By Chris Spears

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado is no stranger to tornadoes, especially along and east of Interstate 25, where the rugged Rocky Mountains meet up with the rolling Great Plains. This part of the state is home to Weld County which is just northeast of metro Denver. Weld County holds the record for the highest number of tornadoes in both Colorado and the United States.

As of 2019, there were 281 twisters in the U.S. tornado database for Weld County, which was started in 1950 and is maintained by the Storm Prediction Center. Nearby Adams County, which is part of the Denver metro area, documented 177 tornadoes during the same period of time, ranking it No. 2 in Colorado and No. 3 in the nation.

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(credit: CBS4)

How is this possible you might ask? Colorado is known for snow, not tornadoes! But that simply isn’t true. They rarely make national headlines which is why many don’t associate Colorado with tornadoes.

Colorado’s tornadoes are somewhat unique because they aren’t usually produced by large, rotating supercell thunderstorms. Instead they are produced by non-supercell thunderstorms interacting with surface boundaries and wind patterns caused by the terrain.

CBS4 Engineer Mike Blake took this picture of a tornado north of Denver on Monday. (credit: Mike Blake/CBS4)

A tornado in Colorado is typically weak and short-lived. It is a special type of tornado known as a landspout because it is usually tall and skinny, much like a waterspout, except over land. They are popular for storm chasers because Colorado’s dry climate makes them very photogenic and easy to see, sometimes from 20 or 30 miles away. Gustnadoes are another type of non-supercell tornado that is common in Colorado.

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(credit: CBS4)

The tornadoes that most people are familiar with are the large, violent twisters spawned by a powerful jet stream that brings a clashing of warm and cold air masses strong enough to generate large, supercell thunderstorms. These are the types of tornadoes that makes the big national headlines in states like Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Although rare, Colorado can experience rotating supercell thunderstorms capable of producing large, violent tornadoes. In fact one touched down in the same general area as Monday’s tornado back in 2008. It traveled over 24 miles and was rated EF-3 with winds estimated around 165 mph. It killed one person and injured 78 others. You can read about it here.

(credit: CBS)


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Monday’s tornado northeast of Denver is a great reminder to everyone living in Colorado that the weather can turn wicked in a hurry. Even on a day when the forecast calls for hot temperatures and only a marginal chance to see a few stray strong or severe thunderstorms, we must always keep our eyes to the sky and stay weather aware.

Chris Spears