When you think of Colorado, getting outside, niche breweries, and world-class ski resorts all might come to mind, but so too should tornadoes. While there are states that can lay claim to more each year, Colorado tornadoes are far from uncommon.
The threat of tornadoes in Colorado may be a bit relative depending on where you live. For example, for those in the southwest portion of the state, you may not think of the weather event all that often. But for residents living in the Front Range urban corridor, and much more so for those in the northeastern portion of the state, the threat is all too real.
Known as Hail Alley, tornadoes in eastern Colorado, near the borders of Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, severe thunderstorms are a yearly occurrence. With them, are destructive winds that can form into tornadoes.
But weather patterns are prone to change over time. Furthermore, anomalies occur, and when it comes to a windstorm of any kind, you’ll want to be prepared for possible damage. This is true for homeowners, renters, and drivers alike.
Whether you are new to the Centennial State, have been blessed enough to never fully understand the threat, or find yourself all too aware of the dangers, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about Colorado tornadoes below.
Does Colorado Get Tornadoes?
Yes, Colorado tornadoes exist, and depending on where you live, you may be more prone to experiencing one. There are several scientific reasons for this, but the biggest, easiest variable to identify is that part of the state is still within America’s Tornado Alley.
Specifically, while the Front Range is somewhat close, it’s the eastern portion of the state that is at the highest risk. While Tornado Alley isn’t completely defined, experts have a general idea. Furthermore, the Great Plains experiencing such windstorms is far from a new discovery. Now, scientists, storm chasers, and residents simply have more tools to define this ambiguous region.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason(s) for Tornado Valley being such a concentrated area for tornadoes, but there are generally accepted ideas prevailing. Tornadoes in Tornado Alley result from the convergence of cold, dry air from Canada and the Rocky Mountains with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and hot, dry air from the Sonoran Desert. This mix of air masses and atmospheric instability creates severe thunderstorms that give rise to powerful tornadoes.
Additional weather patterns, such as atmospheric conditions, mountain formations, and general anomalies, may also contribute to tornadoes in Colorado, just outside of the eastern portion. For the most part, the northeastern section of the Centennial State is far more affected not only by tornadoes when compared to the state itself, but compared to many other counties in the country at-large.
How Many Tornadoes in Colorado?
Tornadoes are common in Colorado and the Centennial State accounts for more tornadoes than all but eight other states. On average, there are 53 Colorado tornadoes per year, with the following counties bearing the brunt of the threat between 2018 and 2022, according to USAFacts:
- Washington County doesn’t just lead the state of Colorado but it actually leads the entire country with 27 tornadoes reported.
- Weld County ranks third in the nation and second in the state for tornadoes reporting 20 in total.
- Morgan County finds itself nestled between the two leaders. So, it’s no surprise that there were 16 reported Colorado tornadoes.
- Residents of Lincoln County endured 13 tornadoes.
- Kit Carson County will round off our top-five list with 12 tornadoes, but Logan County and Sedgwick County weren’t far off with 11 and 10 tornadoes respectively.
Looking at recent tornadoes in Colorado is important to better understand the risks residents are facing. As you can see, there is a great need for the right insurance against windstorm damage in the northeast portion of CO, though such events can happen anywhere. Even the City and County of Denver reported three tornadoes during this recent time period.
History of Tornadoes in Colorado
Over the past decade, Colorado has experienced over 500 tornadoes, averaging 60 per year. Most tornadoes occur in May, June, and July. Although many tornadoes do not cause significant harm, some result in fatalities and millions of dollars in property damage.
You’ll find that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been tracking tornadoes in Colorado since 1950, and we’ll explore some of the more extreme cases to hit the state. However, you’ll note that the Thurman Tornado of 1924 remains the deadliest tornado event in Colorado’s history.
Despite the tornado’s shorter path, it was a powerful windstorm and ranked as an F4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Ten people would die and the destruction was so great that it would lead to the demise of the small town as residents moved on.
On May 18th, 1977, three F4 tornadoes struck southeastern Colorado on the same day, a rare occurrence for any region with an obviously significant potential for damage and loss of life.
In 1996, Colorado experienced an alarming 98 reported tornadoes, more than double the state’s average at that time. This yearly anomaly has helped Colorado earn and retain its ranking at 9th in the nation since 1950 in terms of the number of tornadoes each state has experienced.
In Prowers County on March 28th, 2007, an F3 tornado struck Holly, Colorado, causing significant damage and fatalities. The tornado hit a 2+ mile section of the town, leaving 35 homes destroyed, 11 people injured, and two fatalities.
Unfortunately, there was no warning issued to the local residents, contributing to the tornado’s deadly impact. The tornado was a powerful reminder of the destructive force residents living near Kansas within the Centennial State may sometime face.
On May 22, 2008, a massive tornado, measuring a mile wide, tore through a 39-mile section of Weld County. It was an F3-level storm, resulting in one death, 78 injuries, and substantial property destruction. Damages totaled $147 million, making it the most financially devastating tornado in Colorado’s history.
Colorado experiences various natural disasters, including blizzards, wildfires, and tornadoes, making it prone to seasonal hazards. Denver Colorado tornadoes are uncommon in the metro area, but they have occurred in the past.
The most recent was an EF1 tornado in June 2015, traveling from east Denver to Aurora with winds reaching up to 90 mph. An EF3 tornado also struck Windsor on May 22, 2008, causing significant destruction along a 39-mile path, resulting in one death, 78 injuries, and approximately $100 million in damages.
The core reason that the Denver metro area isn’t as prone to Colorado tornadoes is because of its large buildings along with its proximity to various mountains and foothills. Still, the Mile High City, nor any major city in the Centennial State, isn’t completely impervious to the threat. It’s important for all residents to prepare accordingly and have a plan.
Can Tornadoes Cause Floods in Colorado?
On May 31, 2013, a tornado struck west of Oklahoma City, killing 8 people and causing flash flooding that claimed an additional 13 lives. Simultaneous tornadoes and flash floods (TORFFs) pose unique challenges due to conflicting safety protocols, increasing confusion for people on how to respond.
The overlapping events require forecasters to monitor complex environmental conditions to issue timely warnings. Recent research at Colorado State University has documented approximately 400 TORFF warnings issued each year, emphasizing the need for meteorologists to understand and communicate the risks of such events to the public.
Flash floods are often caused by slow-moving thunderstorms, repeated thunderstorms over the same area, or heavy rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes. These floods can form quickly, in minutes or hours, depending on various factors such as rain intensity, duration, topography, soil conditions, and ground cover.
Flash floods can cause significant damage, including rolling boulders, uprooting trees, destroying buildings and bridges, and carving new channels. In some cases, flash flood-producing rains can trigger debris flows and mudslides, leading to further devastation.
There are instances when debris or ice accumulation can block the flow of water, causing flooding upstream. If the obstruction suddenly releases, downstream areas may experience subsequent flash flooding.
The combined threat of tornado damage and flooding adds yet another important consideration for residents. Particularly when it comes to preparedness and insuring property.
Protecting your vehicle against flood and wind damage may be the same for some insurance policies, but for homeowners and renters, separate policies are necessary.
For example, if you have a home insurance policy in Colorado or renters policy but not a flood insurance policy, you may be insured against the damage caused by a tornado, but if a flash flood were to cause a loss, you won’t be. Flood damage requires a specific flood insurance policy.
How To Stay Prepared for Tornadoes in Colorado
One of the many reasons Colorado tornadoes are so destructive is that they are unpredictable. Combined with the sheer power that such windstorms deliver, it can be difficult to prevent damage in many cases. However, there are still steps you can take to minimize your losses and protect your life:
Staying Prepared Begins With Education
Understanding the risk of tornadoes is crucial for proactive preparation. Learning more about how they act, what to expect, and what you can do to prepare, allows you to create a well-structured emergency plan, identify safe shelters, and establish communication procedures.
Staying informed throughout the year is also important. This can be through weather forecasts enabling vigilant monitoring and timely safety measures, and come from information given by local authorities.
Awareness of the seasons and how they affect tornadoes also helps you avoid dangerous situations during peak months. You’ll also want to know which supplies to pack for emergencies is also critical.
Regular drills familiarize everyone with safety procedures and reduce panic. Community preparedness with active participation in disaster initiatives will also be helpful for your household.
Overall, this knowledge empowers effective preparation and response to tornadoes in Colorado, minimizing harm to individuals and property. Knowing the risk can also help you make critical insurance decisions for adequate coverage.
Create Your Colorado Tornado Preparedness Kit
A tornado emergency kit should contain essential items to ensure safety and well-being during tornadoes and their aftermath. You’ll need to include ample bottled water, non-perishable food, a comprehensive first-aid kit, a reliable flashlight with extra batteries, a battery-powered weather radio, personal documents, cash, a whistle, a multi-tool, hygiene supplies, suitable clothing, blankets, a charged cell phone with chargers, important contacts, local maps, protective gear, baby supplies, and pet essentials.
Regularly review and update the kit, storing it in an easily accessible location near your designated shelter area. These essentials will help you effectively prepare and increase your chances of staying safe during tornado emergencies as well as in the aftermath.
Choosing Safe Shelter
Not all homes are created equally and even those with the strongest materials available may not be able to withstand the destruction brought on by tornadoes. This is why it’s important to explore all options when choosing a shelter.
However, with tornadoes being as fast, powerful, and unpredictable as they are, you might not have any other choice. In these cases, you’ll want to head into the basement should your home have one. If not, getting to the lowest floor in an interior room away from windows is a viable option. Stay far away from the exterior of your home’s walls.
If you live in a mobile home, you’re going to need to seek other options when available. The same goes for those living in converted vans or any other structure that isn’t capable of withstanding high wind damage. In these cases, familiarize yourself with community shelters or stay with a neighbor if possible.
Know Your Community’s Plans
Knowing what your community does for tornadoes is essential because it ensures you are familiar with local emergency protocols and preparedness measures. This allows you to make an informed decision, which could save your life.
Understanding community plans and procedures allows you to respond effectively during tornado warnings in Colorado and seek designated shelters promptly. Being informed about resources, evacuation routes, and communication channels enhances your safety and reduces the risk of harm during tornado events.
Collaboration with local authorities and fellow residents promotes a cohesive and coordinated response, ultimately safeguarding lives and property. Therefore, being knowledgeable about your community’s tornado preparedness measures is crucial for your overall safety and well-being.
How To Insure Against Damage From Colorado Tornadoes
Being prepared to stay protected is important but in the aftermath, you’ll still have to deal with picking up the pieces and rebuilding. Doing this alone can be a scary proposition, which is why having the right insurance policies will go a long way. Here are considerations for every resident of Colorado:
- Having a home insurance policy in Colorado is a must for any homeowner as standard coverages (HO3) will typically protect against windstorm damage. Additionally, you’ll also be protected against rain damage that is sudden and accidental along with lightning and hail. If you are in a condo, having a condo insurance policy can help you protect yourself in a similar fashion.
- Auto insurance policies are necessary for drivers, but liability coverage is the only type that is mandatory in Colorado. However, this doesn’t do you any good when it comes to weather-related events, such as Colorado tornadoes. You’ll also need to enroll in comprehensive car insurance coverage to safeguard against wind damage.
- Similar to auto policies, there are boat insurance, RV insurance, and motorcycle insurance policies offering comprehensive coverage to help you better protect against tornado damage and other weather-related perils.
- Renters need options too and that’s where renters insurance comes in. While you may not be in charge of covering your home, you’ll still want to be sure that your personal property is protected.
When choosing coverage to protect against Colorado tornadoes, there are several key considerations to keep in mind when selecting your policies. First of which is to carefully review the coverage limits in your policy to ensure they are adequate for rebuilding or repairing your home and belongings in the event of extensive tornado damage.
If necessary, consider adding additional coverage to fill any gaps. Explore optional endorsements that some insurance companies offer specifically for tornado coverage. These endorsements can provide extra layers of protection and tailor the policy to better suit your needs.
You’ll also need to understand the deductible in your policy, should it apply. This is the out-of-pocket amount you must pay before your coverage takes effect, and it’s essential to select a deductible that fits within your budget and risk tolerance, as it will directly impact your financial responsibility in the event of a claim.
All of this and more can come to be when shopping for coverage, and you’re still going to need to find time to compare rates so that you don’t overpay. This is why working with an insurance agent can be so valuable.
Here at Freedom Insurance Group, our clients save because of the extensive partnerships we’ve built with top-rated carriers. Our agents have your needs in mind, not a brand’s, and can identify the coverage you need for the lowest price possible, quickly.
Dealing with Colorado tornadoes doesn’t have to be a journey you take alone. Let us help with personalized protection at affordable rates that keep you protected. Give us a call at the number above or receive a free auto insurance quote or home insurance quote using our online tools today.