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These tornado events devastated 2 small Colorado towns but occurred before modern record keeping

Posted at 1:43 PM, Jun 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-04 16:19:41-04

DENVER — Colorado is entering peak tornado season. The state sees an average of 27 tornadoes during May and June, with June being the busiest month with an average of 17 tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There have been 2,125 tornado events recorded in Colorado and at least five deaths related to twisters since 1950. But the tornadoes that hit the state before 1950 were not recorded in the official record books. So, understanding the scope of the damage from these storms can be challenging.

However, the Denver Library’s digital collection can give us some insight into how two small eastern Colorado towns — Yuma and Julesburg — dealt with devastating storms that struck their communities in 1916 and 1947 respectively.

On May 20, 1916, a powerful tornado swept through the town of Yuma, Colorado. The storm damaged buildings and downed electricity or telephone poles. Newspaper accounts at the time referred to the storm as a cyclone and stated that at least 20 people were injured.

The National Weather Service estimates that the pre-1950 storm was an F3 tornado with a 7-mile length and a width of 400 yards. It was the second tornado to hit the county that day, according to the NWS.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, there have been 91 tornadoes recorded in Yuma County since 1950. Including the two 1916 storms, the NWS lists seven pre-1950 storms in Yuma County.

On June 6, 1947, the town of Julesburg saw nearly $5 million (adjusted for inflation) in damages from a tornado. The storm damaged or destroyed several buildings, including the Union Pacific Railroad depot.

The depot was built in 1930 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1947 storm badly damaged the brick building, but it was repaired and moved to a new location where it now houses a museum.

Here’s how the tornado was described when the building was being registered as a historic place:

“The huge whirlwind stripped off the depot roof and ceiling above the baggage room, office and waiting room. Employees in the station took cover in the basement. The tornado moved on south to other structures, ripped out telephone and telegraph lines, then reversed direction and came back with a vengeance. The side walls of the baggage room went down under the second blast. Papers and records in the office were blown away. The shrubbery in the park north of the depot driveway was twisted and uprooted.”

These two tornado events may not have been officially recorded in the record books, they have had lasting impacts on the communities. Both Yuma and Julesburg have recovered but continue to be in the crosshairs of some the state's most powerful storms.