What would your answer be if asked which Colorado County has had the most reported tornadoes since 1950? Would it be a surprise to know that it is Weld County? Well, according to the National Weather Service, Weld County has seen 274 tornadoes from 1950 through 2018. Not all of them cause extensive damage or occur near cities and towns, but when they do, they are not easily forgotten. One recent example was in May 2008 when an EF-3 tornado (a tornado that has wind speeds of 136 to 165 miles per hour and damage can include the collapse of most walls of structures and the uprooting of most trees) hit parts of west Greeley and Windsor.
To find stories of major tornados occurring before 1950, one must look to newspapers rather than through National Weather Service data. For example, on June 9th, 1937, the front page of the Greeley Tribune had a short article that summarized the damage of a tornado that occurred on 8th Avenue from 16th Street to 19th Street. Luckily, no one was injured or killed in the event; but, numerous trees were uprooted and one house was burnt down from a fire caused by the tornado. The article made sure to note that traffic became an issue after the storm, as people wanted to stop and see the damage for themselves.
Traffic jams caused by people stopping to see damage in person seemed to be a common theme for these earlier storms going as far back as 1928. On June 29, 1928 a large tornado struck near Johnstown and did extensive damage. However, Johnstown was not the only town damaged by the storm. According to the Tribune, Greeley farms suffered from heavy hail and rain fall, and a ditch broke causing the Union Pacific track at Platteville to flood. That storm produced 2.87 inches of rain over the course of about a day. The tornado that struck south of Johnstown happened around noon on Friday June 29th, injured many, and sadly, killed two people. The paper reported that “[t]he tornado was estimated to be about four to five miles long and approximately half a mile wide.” Like the tornado in 1937, numerous trees were uprooted, but there was much more structural damage to buildings and, as seen in the photograph, to cars. The Tribune made sure to note the great number of onlookers that came to the area hit by the tornado and the traffic problems they caused. It seems that 90 years ago people were fascinated by storm events and had to see in person the damage a tornado could cause.
News reports of tornadoes today don’t usually mention the amount of people flocking to see the aftermath in person. With the never-ending news cycle available today, people don’t need to travel to see the damage caused by tornadoes, they can simply watch the news or check social media. This is a change of pace from 90 years ago, but the fascination with seeing the damage remains.
Originally published in Greeley Tribune in 2020.
Written by Katalyn Lutkin, former Assistant Registrar