Tornado in Highlands Ranch damages buildings, downs trees

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DENVER (KDVR) — A tornado touched down in Highlands Ranch Thursday afternoon, during the second consecutive day of severe storms south and west of Denver.

Wednesday night, dozens of fans at Red Rocks Amphitheatre were injured by hail after 9 p.m. as they waited for a performance from Louis Tomlinson that was ultimately postponed. Thursday’s severe storms came through much earlier, with warnings beginning around 2 p.m. and largely being east of the Denver metro area by 5 p.m.

Highlands Ranch tornado timeline

The most damaging portion of Thursday’s storm was near South Colorado Boulevard and South University Boulevard around 3:31 p.m.Tracking severe storms, tornado damage in Denver area: Live updates

Video from cameras in the area showed what Pinpoint Weather Chief Meteorologist Dave Fraser described as a rain-wrapped tornado at the same time the National Weather Service reported that a tornado had been observed.

Fraser said the radar signature for this storm was not something seen very often, especially in this part of the state.

Wind speeds reached up to and may have exceeded 114 mph, according to radar in the area.

A second part of the storm, a few miles south of the tornado, also showed rotation on radar although this was a looser rotation, and it’s not clear if this formed any funnel clouds.

Large hail was also indicated from Littleton down to Castle Pines around 3:48 p.m., possibly as large as golf ball-sized.

At 3:49 p.m. the area of the storm that had caused a tornado reached East Lincoln Avenue and Lone Tree Parkway. The storm was moving east at about 9 mph at this time.

The rotation of the storm slowed and the tornado lifted shortly thereafter, and by 4 p.m. all of the tornado warnings for the south metro area were dropped.

Preliminary estimates put the tornado’s track around 6.3 miles long with an EF-1 rating, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologists were reviewing photos of the twister and may survey damage on Friday if necessary.

A map from the National Weather Service office in Boulder, showing the preliminary damage track of a tornado that touched down in Highlands Ranch, Colo. on June 22, 2023.
A map from the National Weather Service office in Boulder, showing the preliminary damage track of a tornado that touched down in Highlands Ranch, Colo. on June 22, 2023. (Map: NWS)

Damage reports in Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree

Thursday’s tornado swept through a 3-mile area surrounding Highlands Ranch and Lone Tree, two of Colorado’s most densely populated neighborhoods.

Residents riding out the storm in the Hillcrest subdivision were taken by surprise, like Mack Sands, who’s lived there for over 30 years.

“We’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like we were in the eye of the storm,” Sands said.WATCH: Tornado cleanup begins in Highlands Ranch

South Metro Fire Rescue Station 17 sustained damage when high winds tore off a portion of the roof. No firefighters were injured and crews headed out to assist others.

The most damage was observed along Highlands Ranch Parkway from Lucent Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard.

FOX31’s Evan Kruegel went to North Ridge Elementary, where parts of the roof were ripped off.

Storm damage at Northridge Elementary School in Highlands Ranch on June 22, 2023.
Storm damage at Northridge Elementary School in Highlands Ranch on June 22, 2023. (Photo: KDVR)

In the Venneford Ranch neighborhood, there are several homes and cars with trees on them. One resident told FOX31’s Greg Nieto she got the warning on her phone and moved to her home’s basement with her family. Power did not go out in this subdivision during this storm.

Toward the west end of the storm’s path, trees were knocked down near South Metro Fire Rescue Station 17. The building itself did not have much damage to it.

Hundreds call for help during tornado, storms

South Metro Fire Rescue received 116 calls for assistance between 3-5 p.m.

“People thinking that their homes or businesses were struck by lightning, smoke conditions inside of some of those buildings, fire alarm activations, natural gas leaks,” Hurst said.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office emergency line received 282 calls.

“Trees down across roads, trees down into homes and some roofs damaged,” spokesperson Deborah Takahara said.WATCH: First responders describe chaos as tornado hits

First responders say, amazingly, there were no serious injuries.

“We haven’t found what we would describe as significant structural damage,” Hurst said.

Deputies will continue to search for any safety risks in the coming days.

“Our Office of Emergency Management has activated our Emergency Operations Center, and they are standing by to take calls,” Takahara said.

Fire officials say it’s important to avoid trees with downed limbs and any power lines or electrical boxes that may be damaged. Call 911 if you suspect a natural gas leak but contact an arborist to have downed trees removed.

FOX31’s Shaul Turner and Gabby Easterwood contributed to this report.

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