Three S.E. Colorado Counties Struck by Five Tornadoes

Hog Farm South of Lamar

Five tornadoes swept through southeast Colorado the night of Friday, April 27, knocking down numerous power lines, damaging or destroying several homes and buildings and causing, fortunately, only minor injuries to some area residents.

The preliminary report from the National Weather service in Pueblo said there were two tornadoes in Prowers County, two in Kiowa County and one in Bent County.  The tornado southwest of Lamar has been rated EF2, with 115 mph winds.  Another EF2 rated tornado touched down east of Lamar and had a ground path of 12 miles.  This tornado destroyed or damaged three dwellings and injured six people.  Chivington received the most damage from the Kiowa County tornadoes with one striking a modular home to the south and another hit an unoccupied mobile home and some ranch buildings three miles northeast of Chivington.  That was also rated EF2 while the other was EF1.  The last tornado swept through extreme northeast Bent County and had a path of two miles from south to north, north of U.S. Highway 50.  A second tornado warning was posted for the northwest corner of Prowers County and had an expiration hour of 3:15am.

Power was knocked out to most of Lamar when the southwest tornado touched down shortly before 2am.  Earlier in the evening, heavy winds, lightning and rain bore down on the community.

Sprint Tower, Substation in Background

According to Lamar Fire Chief Marshall Cook, the sirens in town had just started their alert, when the substation east of the 6 million gallon water tank was hit, knocking out power to the majority of the community.

Sprint Tower Debris

The tornado also nailed the 400 foot tall Sprint tower, ending communication for those customers.  Some residents were notified of the weather emergency through a reverse 911 alert system, known as Code Red.  Due to the power outage, the town’s two radio stations were temporarily off air, as KVAY’s electricity was supplied by the electric system in downtown Lamar.

Repair Crews South of Lamar at Water Tanks

The transmitter for KLMR-FM is adjacent to the 6 million gallon water tank and was knocked off the air.  The AM station on U.S. Highway 50 put their generator into use and began emergency broadcasts early in the morning.  KVAY was able to begin broadcasts later in the day.

Destroyed Facilities at Hog Farm

This storm’s path took it right over a hog farm south of Lamar, destroying 18 hog barns which were empty at the time, although the company was negotiating to contract for several thousand hogs.

AMTRAK Train Halted While Power LInes are Cleared

Other impacts from the power outage included delaying one AMTRAK passenger train passing through Lamar due to downed power lines near the tracks.  The city and county closed their offices for the day and Prowers Medical Center was accepting only acute care patients because of power limitations with their generator.  Area schools also closed for the day and the lack of power caused the cancellation the Antelope Night graduation party at Lamar Community College.  The college also issued a press release stating that the 73rd graduation ceremonies set for Saturday, April 28 were called off, as was the afternoon graduation pinning ceremonies for the nurse’s class.

Several homes were damaged along Highway 196, near Lamar Speedway, tearing a trailer home off its foundations and tossing it for several yards, while it was still occupied.  Only minor injuries resulted from the impact.

Home Along Highway 196

With no electricity, the majority of retail businesses in town were closed, including Thriftway and Wal Mart, although Safeway remained open, using the store’s generator for limited operations.  The frozen food sections were closed off and grocery items were stored in a refrigerated semi to eliminate any spoilage.   With no electricity, computers were not running and many customers were without their cell phones.

Houssin Hourieh, Interim Superintendent at Lamar Light and Power, estimated at 8am, it would take about five to six hours to restore power if Tri State Generation was able to bring their substation back on line first.  He said the initial tornado hit the substation south of town in two locations which caused the outages.

LLP Crews Had Been on the Job Since Early Morning

“When that substation went, it caused our breakers to trip and we lost power to most of the center of Lamar,” he explained.  That also tripped the main breaker north of the substation that fed the whole system.  By mid- afternoon Friday some rumors were already being spread that the outage would last an extra day before power was restored.  Those rumors were nothing more than that, as about 15 hours after the first tornado struck, between 5:30 and 6pm, power started being restored around the city.

The National Weather Service report stated that tornadoes at night are infrequent across our area, and developed from a strong storm system that coupled with low level moisture brought west from the central plains into southeast Colorado by the approaching storm system.   Records show the last significant after midnight tornado in southeast Colorado was registered in Bent and Kiowa Counties at 1:30am on April 30, 1942.


By Russ Baldwin


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