Rare Tornado Near Pikes Peak

Jon Erdman
Published: July 15, 2013

A rare, high-elevation tornado touched down Saturday near Pikes Peak, Colo.  Imagine seeing that on your hike or ride up the Pikes Peak Cog Railway!

The tornado was captured in photos and video near the 14,110-foot summit Saturday afternoon.  Several photos of at least one funnel cloud over the mountains were also submitted from the neighboring Front Range, including the Colorado Springs metro area.

This may sound like deja vu.  

Almost one year ago, the second highest-elevation tornado on record was observed on the northeast side of Mt. Evans, Colo. at an elevation of 11,900 feet, about 60 miles west of Denver.  The highest elevation U.S. tornado on record in the U.S. was photographed by a hiker in Sequoia National Park, Calif. on July 7, 2004 at an elevation of 12,000 feet.

Historical High-Elevation Tornadoes

According to the National Climatic Data Center, only three tornadoes were reported in nearby Teller County, Colo. since 1996, two near Woodland Park and another near the town of Divide.  In that same period, the only tornadoes in El Paso County were observed along the Front Range or eastern Plains generally from I-25 east.

Colorado averages about 50 tornadoes each year, for the past two decades. Most of those, however, occur on the plains east of Denver, not in the mountains.

While tornadoes over the higher elevations of the Rockies are rare, they are not unprecedented.  Due to sparse population and a lack of spotters, there are probably more of these mountain tornadoes than our current records have documented.

A couple of these were "violent" tornadoes.

On August 11, 1993, a line of severe thunderstorms spawned an F3 tornado in the Uinta Mountains of northeast Utah, north of the town of Roosevelt.  The tornado touched down three different times along a 17-mile long path, reaching up to one-half mile wide!

According to the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, damage was reported as high as 10,800 feet. About 1,000 acres of trees were either uprooted or snapped.  Fortunately, there were no injuries, as a scout troop was camping in the area.  However, four vehicles were damaged.

This remains the Beehive State's only F/EF3 or stronger tornado on record.

If that isn't impressive, consider an F4 tornado in the Tetons on July 21, 1987.  According to the National Weather Service in Riverton, Wyo., this tornado downed over 1 million trees across 15,000 acres.  The tornado traveled 24 miles at elevations between 8,500 and 10,000 feet, and was up to a whopping 2.5 miles wide, among the widest tornadoes documented!  

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MORE:  Pikes Peak Tornado Photos

iWitness Weather

A tornado touches down near Pikes Peak, Colo. on July 13, 2013. (Credit: Stephanie and Amanda Curran via iWitnessWeather)

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