A “large and extremely dangerous tornado” touched down in northeastern Highlands Ranch on Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder, uprooting trees and damaging roofs along a 6-mile path through a densely populated area south of Denver.
The damage was mainly concentrated near C-470 area between Broadway and Quebec Street. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The tornado — which was confirmed at about 3:30 p.m. — moved southeast, according to the weather service. A tornado warning was issued for north-central Douglas and southwestern Arapahoe counties.
The tornado was part of severe thunderstorms that pounded the Denver area for a second straight day amid a broader stretch of wet and fierce weather that has affected the state for several weeks.
During a news conference at 6 p.m., South Metro Fire Rescue spokesman Eric Hurst said they haven’t found “what we would call significant damage to any buildings.” He said from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. they received 116 calls for help, but most were for downed trees, roof damage and possible lightning strikes on houses. He said people should call 911 if they smell gas or have sparks around electric boxes.
Meteorologists believe the tornado touched down near Lucent Boulevard and Broadway and was on the ground for roughly for 15 to 20 minutes, Russell Danielson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder said. Danielson said the tornado wasn’t on the ground continuously. The damage path is estimated at 6.3 miles.
The county is working to clean up tree debris causing safety hazards along sidewalks and in roadways, starting with the hardest-hit areas between Highlands Ranch Parkway and C-470 and from Broadway to Colorado.
“Crews are also evaluating every street in Highlands Ranch to map damage, which will help inform the crews’ efforts,” the release said. Residents are asked to report damaged traffic signs on Douglas County’s website.
Anyone who sees problems with public property is asked to report it to Highland Ranch’s website.
“We want our community to know that our crews are going street-by-street to evaluate the damage and prioritize recovery efforts,” Commissioner George Teal said. “We know cleaning up after this storm will be a shared responsibility among public entities and our individual homeowners.”
Meteorologists gave the tornado a classification of EF-1, with top wind speeds of 105 mph. NWS officials also said it’s likely that straight-line winds knocked down trees about a mile or more south of the tornado’s path.
“It was surreal to come out and see the aftermath,” Ruden said. “I grew up in Iowa, so this was nothing new. But being in Colorado for over 20 years, I don’t think I ever would’ve expected a tornado in Highlands Ranch. Now it’s just a matter of clean-up.”
Looking around White Bay Drive and the rest of his neighborhood, Ruden said his house was in the direct line of Thursday afternoon’s tornado. With six uprooted trees in his yard, he enlisted the help of a group of landscaping friends to break down and transport the downed trees to dump locations.
Just two miles away, in the Brookfield neighborhood, the Sheets family started repairs on their own tornado aftermath.
Randy Sheets and his wife were at work when the storm hit its peak Thursday — and when the 100-foot cottonwood in their front yard crashed through their house.
“It came in through the living room, took out a couple windows and now the right side of the house is slowly coming down,” Sheets said. “We’re speaking to insurance to figure out what we can clean up now and what we have to hold off on.”
Sheets said the tree also took out his brother’s room upstairs, though they luckily have a spare room for him to sleep in. The rest of the house was relatively undamaged.
Friends and family reached out after the storm, looking to help, and the group was planning to tackle what debris they can carry off the property while they wait to hear back from the insurance company.
However, that may not be their only wait. Tree removal companies across the area are now booked out for weeks. The Kims, who hired Loula to remove two trees late Friday morning, were able to call the night before and get the service booked for the next day.
“We were just going down a list of companies until we got to one that would answer,” Ho Kim said. “They called us back at 9 a.m. and, luckily, happened to have a crew down the street working already.”
Compared to other families around them in the Eastridge Terrace neighborhood, damage to the Kims’ house was minimal.
Ho Kim’s wife, Susan, said there were several sections of fencing down in the backyard and possible roof and siding damage from the hail, but no major structural damage to the house.
“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Susan Kim said. “Right now it’s the trees, then we call the fence people, the insurance, the painters. I’m just grateful it wasn’t worse.”
Outside of the neighborhood, Douglas County crews continued to clear tree debris from sidewalks and major streets Friday, starting with the hardest hit area between Highlands Ranch Parkway and C-470 and from Broadway to Colorado Boulevard.
“The county has issued a disaster declaration to open the door for state support,” Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said in a Friday news release. “In the meantime, we are working with the Highlands Ranch community to provide tree debris drop-off sites.”
Any debris larger than a typical trashcan load should go to the drop-off sites at Highland Heritage Park at 9651 S. Quebec St. and Redstone Park at 3280 Redstone Park Circle. The Highlands Ranch Metro District does not allow fencing to be dropped off at either site.
The drop-off sites opened Friday morning and will remain open indefinitely.
Redstone Park is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Highland Heritage Park is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
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