Storms knock out power, uproot trees in Denver area
July 21, 2009
WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. – A powerful storm system that included two weak tornadoes, hail and rain battered southern and western Denver suburbs, uprooting large trees and leaving as many as 50,000 homes and businesses without power.
Minor injures were reported because of broken windows, but no one was hospitalized due to the harsh Monday night weather, said Wheat Ridge police spokeswoman Lisa Stigall.
Leaves covered some streets in suburban Wheat Ridge up to people’s ankles, as residents removed tree branches from their yards.
“You couldn’t even see out the window more than 10 feet with all the wind, hail and rain,” said Merrill Mauk, 58, who was using a hose to wash away leaves covering his 1989 white Cadillac DeVille.
A television helicopter showed a large, uprooted tree on top of a house, nearly cutting it in half.
Trees and power lines blocked the streets and some fences were blown down. The strong smell of pine and wet tree branches hung in the air.
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Down the street from Mauk, a fallen spruce tree about 75 feet tall and 30 feet wide blocked most of the street. Jim Ness, who owns the house where the tree stood, said it had been there since the house was built in 1959.
Moments after the intense winds and hail began, Ness said his wife looked out the window and told him the tree was gone.
“And I said, ‘Which one?'” said Ness, who thought it was a 20-foot crabapple tree. His wife told him it was the spruce,
“And I said, ‘No way!'” Ness said.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, a group that represents insurance companies, said it would be days before it determined the extent of the damage.
The storm affected Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Arvada in the west of Denver, and Englewood in the south. Damage was also reported in Fort Collins north of Denver.
Stigall said the hail was pea-sized and larger.
Xcel Energy said more than 29,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity Tuesday. As many as 50,000 customers were without electricity at one point, the utility said. Crews hoped to finish restoring electricity service by 11 p.m.
A state Department of Motor Vehicles office in suburban Lakewood didn’t open Tuesday morning because it had no power. With traffic lights out, officers were directing traffic at three of Wheat Ridge’s biggest intersections, Stigall said.
The National Weather Service said the two tornadoes briefly touched down in Englewood and Castle Rock, about 30 miles south of Denver, but no damage or injuries were reported.
Meteorologist Jim Kalina said Wheat Ridge likely had a microburst, not a tornado. He said microbursts can cover a large area with winds up to 100 mph lasting 15 to 30 minutes.
Kalina said he didn’t know how strong the winds were in Wheat Ridge or how long they lasted.
Arvada had about two inches of hail, with 18-inch drifts in some places, Kalina said.