Strong storms produce damaging hail and tornadoes in eastern Colo.
Much of eastern Colorado was impacted by severe weather on Sunday, July 29, including confirmed tornadoes.
According to the National Weather Service, two F2 tornadoes occurred, both in Morgan County. One was centered in the Hillrose, Colo., area and the other near the Brush Municipal Airport. According to the report, there are signs of potentially two additional tornadoes and further analysis is underway.
Morgan County Livestock Extension Agent Marlin Eisenach said the damage in Morgan County is primarily from Brush to Snyder, and east to Hillrose.
“There are some fields that are a 100 percent loss,” he said. “It laid the corn flat. The worst of it was the strong wind. It literally tore it apart. There was hail in the area and the wind behind the hail was so strong.”
Eisenach said there was damage to homes, buildings, pivot sprinklers, vehicles, equipment and livestock. Many fences were also destroyed, causing some livestock producers to return livestock back to their rightful pastures.
“With no electricity, our big concern was drinking water for the livestock and they got most of that taken care of,” he said.
Eisenach was in Brush Sunday afternoon overseeing the gymkhana horse show with about 30 4-H youth members when the storm hit.
“I saw those clouds and we took everybody to the indoor arena so we went in there and it wasn’t 5 seconds after that, the sirens went off,” he said. “We left the horses in the indoor arena and we went to the outdoor bathrooms that are brick for shelter and we huddled in there until the weather passed.”
Eisenach said some remaining corn could be chopped for feed but the race to chop before the moisture leaves the tattered plants will be a challenge. Flood irrigation will be difficult with a large amount of debris in the ditches and few pivot sprinklers escaped damage.
Nitrates will also be a concern as cattle that consume feed high in nitrates will experience toxicity in which the blood cannot carry oxygen.
“You’ve got to worry about nitrates at this stage definitely,” he said. “Nitrates accumulate in the lower portion of the stalk so you can’t cut too low to ground level. If there are nitrates, you’ll have to do some blending.”
Nitrate testing is simple, he said, but he recommends using only certified labs.
“That corn that was hit is too late for a second crop so they can maybe go in there and plant some winter wheat later this fall,” he said. “It’s just devastating.”
The last tornado in the Brush, Colo., area was Sept. 9, 2001, an F0 which caused no reported damage. The strongest tornado previously reported in the area was an F1 on June 13, 1981, west of town. Morgan County experiences an average of one tornado per year with 74 reported from 1950 to 2017. In the county, eight F2 tornadoes occurred on May 30, 1996, and July 30, 1996. HAIL and WIND
Hail damage was extensive in Morgan County and in various areas around eastern Colorado. In Kit Carson County, there were straight-line winds reported in Seibert at 105 miles per hour that destroyed the new co-op building, the third in three years, the last one lost to fire.
Extension Agent Mick Livingston said the hail at his home southwest of Seibert, Colo., was about 2.5 inches in diameter and caused extensive damage to buildings and vehicle windows, knocking five windows out of his vehicle.
“The worst disaster is the crops,” he said. “You know, 100 percent loss, I’m guessing, on a 10 mile-wide strip through here. Most everything on the west side of Kit Carson County, from about County Road 18 west to the county line.”
With the corn crop decimated on the west end of the county, Livingston said the storm damage closer to Flagler, Colo., was more serious to buildings but not as significant in terms of crop destruction.
“There’s nothing there,” he said. “In a few places there are corn stalks with no leaves and a couple of corn cobs sticking out but there are no leaves and no tassels so it’s not going to get pollinated. In other places, there’s no stalks.”
Livingston said sunflower fields sustained damage leaving nearly no stalks in the field. He anticipates some millet may rally but, in all, he said the storm was vicious. There were injuries to cattle, primarily bruising and cuts, though wildlife didn’t fare as well with him noting dead deer and antelope around the area.
Livingston said some farmers, left without enough material to salvage, may consider planting wheat in the fall or even crops like Triticale or turnips.
“You know, it happens,” he said. “It happens.” ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 392-4410.