7 homes, hog farm destroyed in Colorado tornadoes

At least seven homes and a hog farm were destroyed early Friday after authorities said rare nighttime tornadoes ripped through sparsely populated counties on the southeastern Colorado plains.

State officials say no deaths have been reported, only minor injuries from the twisters reported in Prowers, Kiowa and Bent counties. Preliminary findings indicate five tornadoes touched down.

Officials in the Prowers County city of Lamar said deputies and state troopers spotted a fast and large tornado south of town that ripped through homes.

One home in Bent County and two in Prowers County were destroyed, said state emergency management division spokeswoman Micki Trost. In Kiowa County, four homes and a former church building were damaged or destroyed, said Chris Sorensen of the county sheriff's office.

The damage included one home in Chivington, in Kiowa County, that was totaled after the five people sleeping inside escaped, owner Therisa Brown said. She added there was no warning before her home was demolished.

"We woke up to the roof getting ripped off," Brown said. "We went to the living room, and we lifted a wall off of a friend who was staying with us. That's when the tornado circled back, and it hit the house again. We barely made it into the bathroom."

She said only a few exterior walls remained of her home. A photo from The Denver Post showed the ceiling and walls gone from about half the house, a stove standing in the wide open kitchen.

Chivington does not have its own weather siren, Sorensen said. Kiowa County has used grant money to offer residents low-cost, weather-alert radios, and an estimated 25 to 30 percent of households have those radios, Sorensen said. An automated phone message warning of tornadoes also was sent to landline phones, as well as to mobile phones that were registered to receive the county's alerts, he said.

Sorensen said the areas hit were mostly isolated farmland. A tractor-trailer was blown over on Colorado Highway 96 near Chivington.

Preliminary National Weather Service findings indicate five tornadoes touched down, with two near Lamar, two in the Chivington area and one in Bent County west of Wiley. There was also a report of a tornado touching down near Yoder in El Paso County on Thursday night and damaging a barn, said Patrick Cioffi, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

Tornado season usually doesn't begin until May in Colorado. Overnight tornadoes are more common in Kansas and Oklahoma than in Colorado, where most severe weather is fueled by daytime heat, Cioffi said. He said the severe weather on the plains followed near record temperatures in the 80s.

Heat creates instability in the atmosphere, which can lead to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Power was temporarily knocked out in Lamar and most of Prowers County because of the severe weather. Drivers traveling across the plains initially were warned to fuel up because gasoline wasn't available to be pumped in the area, but state transportation officials said fuel was available by Friday night.

The Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross was working with affected families on an individual basis."

The same band of storms also dropped snow in Breckenridge and the Eisenhower Tunnel, said forecaster Todd Dankers in Boulder. High winds swept the Western Slope, but no injuries were reported, he said.