We’re no strangers to wind, rain, hail, and other intense weather. So, when you watched wind gusts upend your patio furniture and blow out your power on Saturday, you may have chalked it up to Colorado being Colorado. But, actually, what we saw happen this weekend was very rare. We officially witnessed a derecho, a long stretch of powerful windstorms that wreak havoc on everything in its course. Derechos travel far, and they travel fast. And as Coloradans learned this weekend, they do serious damage.
In meteorology, in order to have a verified derecho there must be a storm path at least 240 miles long and reported wind gusts of 58 mph or higher along that path. While these events aren’t so unusual in the Midwest and East, there have only been two documented derechos in the Western United States before this weekend; one happened in May 1994 and the other in June 2002.
Around 9 a.m. on Saturday, the first wind and hail report came from this line of storms in southeast Utah. About 12 hours later, the last wind report was measured in southwest North Dakota. In one day, this derecho unofficially covered nearly 900 miles.
This line of storms moved at an average speed of 60 mph, but at times, it was moving between 100 and 120 mph. Moreover, what made it so uncommon is that the derecho crossed over the Continental Divide in Colorado, which typically tears apart storms with its dramatic topography. But this derecho was strong enough to overcome the mountains, and as it moved into the Front Range it brought heavy rain and small hail.
Peak Wind Gusts in Colorado
Winter Park Resort: 110 mph
Copper Mountain: 90 mph
Denver International Airport: 78 mph
Commerce City: 73 mph
Broomfield: 71 mph
Morrison: 70 mph
Monument: 61 mph
Dillon: 60 mph
Loveland: 58 mph
As a result of these wind speeds, we saw tree damage and even some structural damage across the region. But don’t go thinking this was business as usual: You just lived through some pretty substantial Colorado weather history. Remember this one, because it’s likely we won’t see something similar to that for quite some time.