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28 years ago today – Thornton is struck by a tornado

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 4:54pm MST
Damage along Washington was extensive from the tornado that struck Thornton on June 3, 1981. (City of Thornton archives)

Damage along Washington was extensive from the tornado that struck Thornton on June 3, 1981. (City of Thornton archives)

It was 28 years ago today that the worst tornado to ever strike the Denver metro area hit Thornton.  June 3, 1981 is a day that will forever be remembered by longtime residents of the north metro area. 

Last year the Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel did a story about it which you can read by clicking here.  Also, below is the entry from the National Weather Service’s history calendar – it is very interesting and serves as a good reminder that severe weather can strike anywhere.

In 1981…severe thunderstorms produced tornadoes over metro Denver.  The first tornado touched down at the intersection of Alameda Ave. And Sheridan Blvd.  The twister moved north along Sheridan Blvd….damaging businesses…apartment buildings…homes…and vehicles.  Over ten homes were unroofed.  The roof of one landed in the middle of a neighborhood park.  At least 10 mobile homes were wrecked.

The tornado curved to the northeast into northwest Denver… Hopping up and down in several places.  Very strong winds outside the actual funnel caused 20 to 30 thousand dollars in damage in downtown Denver.  The third floor of one old building was demolished.  No major injuries were reported from the tornado…although several people were hurt slightly in traffic accidents on Sheridan Blvd. in the confusion caused by the storm.  Damage in Lakewood alone was estimated at 200 thousand dollars. 

At the same time… The worst tornado to ever hit metro Denver struck Thornton. Coming from the same thunderstorm that spawned the Denver twister…the Thornton tornado tore a swath through the heart of the city.  87 homes were destroyed…110 others damaged at least moderately.  In all…600 homes in a 100 block area sustained some damage.  The twister also hit shopping centers…several restaurants…and other buildings. Seven of the 42 injured were considered serious.  The storm was strong enough to snap lamp posts in half and drive a 6- inch slab of wood 2 feet into the ground.  Damage was estimated at up to 50 million dollars. 

The same storm that struck Thornton produced another damaging tornado that touched down in the northwest section of Fort Lupton.  This twister damaged 16 homes and numerous cars and campers. Two children were slightly injured when the car they were in was knocked about and its windows shattered by the storm.  The twister also damaged two commercial buildings.  Damage was very spotty…and observers said the storm hopped up and down at least 3 times.  Dollar damage was estimated at 500 thousand dollars. 

The thunderstorm complex that produced 3 damaging tornadoes also dropped large hail which damaged many cars over northwest Denver.  One to 2 inches of rain fell in less than an hour…flooding a mobile home park with 3 to 4 feet of water on the northwest edge of Denver.  The high water damaged about half of the 392 homes in the park.  Local flooding was also reported in other areas across metro Denver.  A tornado was also sighted near Franktown…but caused no damage.  A thunderstorm wind gust to 52 mph was recorded at Stapleton International Airport.

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7 Responses to “28 years ago today – Thornton is struck by a tornado”

  1. Alex Says:

    My mom and dad were in this while they were in Middle school….my mom was over by Monterey Elementary in Thornton while the roof of the school was being taken off. My dad was on Thornton Parkway and York When the Tornado was chasing him down the street to his house. So this was a very interesting story to hear.

  2. Jay Says:

    I was by North Valley Bank,on a bike. I was hit in the neck with a 2×4 when I got home to the house I was living at on Cedar many of the homes surrounding were wiped out..my parents home survived but was heavily damaged.

    Today a funnel cloud swiftly flew by and we received hail of various sizes…it reminded me of the that day..it was mellow..then dark then all hell broke loose.I’m thankful I survived.

  3. Curt Whisenant Says:

    I was walking home from middle school in the Green Mtn area of Lakewood that day. My home was in the foothills, so I had a wild view of what happened that day. Looking out over the Denver landscape which was backlit to the far east with sunlight, I saw seven funnels that seemed to all touch down all over Denver. I’m still grateful to the stranger that let a scared kid hide out in his garage.

  4. nate swanson Says:

    i was born on june 3rd, 1981!!! i remember my parents telling me that i was a “storm baby”, and thats why i was so destructive as a child!

  5. Kenneth Pereira Says:

    I was in Jr. High at the time and had just returned from visting my dad in Texas to find that my mom and Step Dad had moved from Thornton to Lakewood and I was very mad. All my friends were in Thornton, including my best friend Denny Corneau. I love the school I was going to, Merrit Hutton Jr High and Thornton itself was great, everything was centrally located. Then the tornado hit…it destroyed the house we used to live in. I guess it was a good thing we had moved.

  6. Ken Harmon Says:

    I was stationed on Rocky Mountain Arsenal at the time. The soldiers at RMA had to assist the fire department that day because of all the tornadoes and damage around the Denver area. The Arsenal is on a higher ground than most of the area around and I remember standing in the fire department parking lot watching tornadoes dropping all around us. It was a scary day.

  7. Leah Blanchard Says:

    My Grandpa ran the Thorton Bank and my mom worked there as well. There were two stairwells that led to the basement. Luckily they chose the right one because the tornado hit and demolished the other one. My mom sat for hours picking glass splinters out of a coworker with a flashlight after all the windows in her car imploded. She ran home quickly to let her dog inside and was parking right before the tornado hit.

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