May 22, 2008 started like most other spring days in Colorado. That Thursday morning had dawned with relatively mild temperatures and a touch of humidity in the air. That moisture in the air was a warning sign as moist air from the Gulf of Mexico was entering the state and a signal of the potential for severe storms. No one knew though just what was in store for a small town in northeastern Colorado.
As temperatures rose in the morning, the moist air near the ground mixed with fast moving dry air aloft and created conditions ideal for supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes. Hail began to fall around 11:20am near Platteville, a harbinger of things to come. As the weather situation became much more excited and confused, reports of a twister on the ground near Gilcrest at 11:29 rolled in.
A classic wedge tornado had formed and was moving to the north-northwest at a leisurely 30 mph wreaking havoc and destruction all along its path. Examiner.com soon posted a special report at 11:30 warning of the twister and showing its expected path. It narrowly missed the town of Milliken, dumping baseball sized hail on it instead. The twister was now a full mile wide with winds in excess of 136 mph and at 11:57am, the storm struck Windsor, home to 16,000 Coloradoans. By the time it was done with the town, it had claimed one life, destroyed 80 homes and damaged nearly 770 others.
For a total of nearly 45 minutes the storm carved a 35 mile long path of devastation and all along its path it left the evidence – houses with nothing but a foundation left, power poles snapped like matchsticks, semi-trailers overturned like toy cars, mangled pieces of metal and shards of wood.
Tornadoes in Colorado are not uncommon with an average of 60 per year, although most do occur on the eastern plains in more rural areas. The storm was only the second deadly tornado in Colorado in the last 10 years (the Holly tornado in 2007 being the other) but it served to highlight that the Front Range is on the western edge of Tornado Alley. Weld County is in fact Colorado’s own tornado capital having had more twisters than any other county since 1950.
When it was over, Coloradoans showed their sense of community in helping the affected areas. The Red Cross immediately went into action as did the state government in calling out the National Guard to help. Donations poured in and other relief agencies provided food and shelter to those left homeless. While the Windsor Tornado was an example of the worst of Mother Nature, the storm also showed us the best of mankind. No other weather event comes close to being Colorado’s biggest weather story of 2008.
Below is some amazing raw video from 9News of the tornado as it moved north.
|This article was also posted to the Denver Weather Examiner site. Get more local news and information on Examiner.com.|