HIGHLANDS RANCH — 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. It expired shortly after 4 p.m.
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.
Crews will visit the area Friday to assess damage and determine the exact location where the tornado touched down, how far it traveled and its magnitude, Danielson said.
“The only way we can rate tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita scale is through assessing the damage,” he said. “So, unfortunately, it takes time. We have to send a crew down there and we can’t do that (Thursday) while there is active weather going on.”
The Enhanced Fujita scale categorized tornadoes with a rating based on the wind speeds and the damage caused. A tornado with an EF rating of 0 has winds between 65 to 85 mph, while a EF rating of 5 has winds over 200 mph.
The NWS said Thursday night that the tornado was categorized as an EF-1 during a preliminary damage assessment. That means it had winds between 86 and 110 mph.
“We do get weak tornadoes typically frequently, but this was a supercell — stronger tornado. That is quite infrequent out here,” Danielson said.
A video posted to Twitter by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office showed strong winds whipping trees near the intersection of Highlands Ranch Parkway and Zotos Drive. Other images posted on social media showed downed trees in the area.
A Colorado Sun reporter saw dozens of uprooted trees in Highlands Ranch, where tree limbs and leaves littered the streets. Portable toilets were tipped over and part of a car dealership’s sign had blown off. The area where the tornado reportedly touched down was near a strip of car dealerships along C-470 and Lucent Boulevard.
South Metro Fire Rescue said it was “responding to dozens of calls in Highlands Ranch … for storm-related damage, including roof damage, trees down, natural gas leaks and electrical problems.” The reports were south of C-470 near Quebec Street.
“No reports of any injuries so far,” the department said in a tweet that included an image of damage to one of its stations.
Deputy Jason Blanchard, a spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, warned people in the Highlands Ranch area to limit their travel as several downed trees were blocking traffic. According to Sun reporters in the area after 5 p.m., traffic lights were down and cars careened off the road and slammed into poles and control boxes. Trees, fences and store signs are strewn along the roadside at University and Colorado. There were also reports of flooded basements.
The sheriff’s office received reports that several houses were damaged by the storm, including many hit by 50-foot or taller trees. At the evening news conference, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said they received 282 reports to their dispatch center.
Travis Taggert, general sales manager at Schomp BMW near the intersection of Lucent Boulevard and C-470, said he was watching the storm from a second-story glass office when the wind began to blow and he received an alert about the tornado warning. Across the highway, he watched as two giant “For Lease” signs lifted into the air. Taggert ushered the dealership’s employees to the basement.
“I think we were in it,” he said. “It was probably about a minute long of pure craziness. Just really, really high winds and rain for about 10 minutes.”
Severe weather is expected into Thursday evening across the Front Range. Large hail was reported in the Evergreen and Morrison areas, as well as in Lakewood.
There was localized flooding in some parts of the Denver metro area.
The National Weather Service sent a push alert to cellphones in Denver warning of baseball-sized hail — prompting Lakewood to activate its tornado sirens — but hail that size apparently never fell.
Nearly 10,000 customers lost power in the storm, according to Xcel Energy. Many flights at Denver International Airport were delayed.
Severe weather also hit the Denver area Wednesday, causing flooding and damage.
A hailstorm Wednesday evening at Red Rocks Amphitheatre injured about 100 people who were attending a concert. The venue posted on Twitter that it offered its “sincere best wishes to everyone affected by last night’s storms across Colorado.”
Venue officials said a concert scheduled for Thursday evening is still on but the gates will open later.