Sentinel revisits 1981 Thornton tornado

On June 3, 1981 a tornado struck Thornton in what is the worst twister to have struck the Denver metro area. Image courtesy the City of Thornton archives.

I always tell the story of me being in 6th grade at Hillcrest Elementary in Northglenn on June 3, 1981.  Sitting at our desks the principal comes over the intercom and announces that all students need to get under their desks.  I look outside and see that it is dark as night – at least it seemed to be to a scared 12 year old! 

Not long after, a tornado touched down a few miles away along Washington Street in Thornton destroying 25 homes and injuring 53 people. 

In a recent series on the history of Washington Street, the Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel revisited that day and the damage the tornado caused.  It is fascinating reading whether you have lived here long enough to remember it or not. 

Click here to read the article (3MB PDF). 

4 thoughts on “Sentinel revisits 1981 Thornton tornado”

  1. As a small boy, just about to emigrate back to my native Great Britain, being told by the then pricipal of Hulstrom Elementary to calmly get under our desks, was both frightening and exciting at the same time ! It was, amongst others, one of my abiding memories of American school life that will always stay with me .

  2. Same here, I was a Hulstrom student in the 6th grade… I have vivid memories of playing dodge ball in the gym with the door open. The wind picked up, the trees were blowing hard, the sky turned a funky green, and hailstones began sliding in across the gym floor. Then Mr. Rollof came over the intercom and we all hussled back to our classrooms (there was some screaming) where we hid under our desks. I was scared and I remember crying with a few others. I remember Mr. Wilhelm (he was a weather buff) watching out the door, perhaps hoping to get a glimpse of the tornado. It was very scary! Would you believe that I continue to have tornado nightmares to this day?

  3. I was 16 years old and a junior at Thornton High School. I was standing under the catwalk right outside the high school that afternoon waiting for the RTD bus to come. I watched the tornado form, hit the ground, and watched it destroy rooftops, pick up cars, and throw debris around. I was being hit by debris as I had no where to go. Just remember hanging on to the pole that was right by me. It was like a nightmare, one I will never forget! I still don’t sleep well or rest easy when the weather starts to turn, winds pick up, thunder, lightning, etc. all stems from that day on June 3,1981, a day I will forever remember! Many homes of friends I had living off Hoffman Way were damaged and their roof tops ripped off, glass shattering and cutting them, one of our high school cheerleaders was seriously injured as she drove home from school in her car, it was picked up by the tornado and disposed of in a parking lot. I just remember it going from daylight to darkness in a matter of minutes just before it hit! My memories of that day will be forever embedded in my mind.

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