Hams Heed the Call When Tornadoes Sweep Through Colorado
On Thursday, May 22 at approximately noon MDT, a large tornado touched down in northern Colorado near the town of Windsor. Windsor, with a population of nearly 19,000, is located approximately 10 miles southeast of Fort Collins, and 50 miles north of Denver. According to ARRL Colorado Section Manager Jeff Ryan, K0RM, initial reports indicated that there was the possibility of extensive damage. Ryan said that Colorado ARES District 10 was activated and David Markham, W0CBI, the Colorado Section Emergency Coordinator, monitored the situation.
The funnel cloud, accompanied by golf-ball sized hail, blackened the skies over Windsor as it knocked down power lines, shredded crops in fields outside the city and blasted whole neighborhoods; the southeast side of town was hit the worst by the storm. "It will be a long time before the town recovers from this," Windsor Mayor John Vasquez said.
Ryan said reports indicated the Windsor tornado was just one of several that swept across northern Colorado and part of Wyoming: "The storm resulted in one fatality, and more than 100 people were treated on the scene for some type of injury with another 18 people treated at area hospitals. Damage is widespread and includes homes and business in Weld and Larimer Counties. We also received damage reports from the smaller towns of Gilcrest and Platteville."
The Weld County Sheriff's Office reported that the lone fatality, Oscar Manchester, 52, a US Marine and Vietnam veteran, was killed in a recreational vehicle that was destroyed in the storm at a campground west of Greeley, about 60 miles north of Denver.
Colorado ARES District 10 Emergency Coordinator Randy Long, W0AVV, reported that 31 operators provided communications service to the Emergency Operations Center and Fire Department in Windsor, the Weld County Emergency Operations Center, the Larimer County Emergency Operations Center, the City of Loveland Emergency Operations Center, the Loveland Mobile Command post and two Red Cross shelters.
"On Friday, the town was still without power and remained so until local utilities could complete a survey of electrical transmission lines in the affected area that is expected to take up to 48 hours," Ryan said. "A mandatory evacuation for sections of Windsor is in effect due to gas leaks and downed power lines. The National Guard is on duty and is responsible for escorting emergency responders in and out of the area."
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter ordered the National Guard to aid rescue and cleanup efforts. He visited the town Thursday evening, saying the number of homes damaged was "significant" and declared a state of emergency for Weld County. Representatives from FEMA are on the scene conducting damage assessments. On Monday, President Bush approved Colorado's request for federal disaster aid to help with the costs of the storms and tornadoes, and declared Weld and Larimer Counties federal disaster areas.
On Friday, Markham placed an additional 15 Amateur Radio operators in Larimer and Weld County on standby in anticipation of an overnight shift; he also requested adjacent districts to prepare in support of the ongoing operations if necessary.
Windsor, Fort Collins and Loveland lie in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, where the Great Plains give way to steep hills. "It's very unusual to see [a tornado like] this by a mountain range. It's kind of a freak thing," said Captain Steve Fleming of the Poudre Fire Authority.
Ryan said that at the peak of the ARES operation, "Colorado ARES District 10 had 55 operators supporting emergency response and relief efforts in the aftermath of the tornado that touched down near Windsor."