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Tornado strikes Pikes Peak Thursday just above 9,000 feet of elevation

In the midst of Thursday’s continuous waves of thunderstorms, a rare, high-elevation tornado touched down on the northern slopes of Pikes Peak.

On Friday, the National Weather Service Pueblo survey team rated the tornado an EF1 based on preliminary looks at the damage, the same as the one that touched down in Highlands Ranch last month.

“Tornadoes in the mountains are rare in general, but not unheard of,” said Cameron Simcoe, a National Weather Service meteorologist who conducted the damage survey after the storm. “Tornadoes are very fickle, without the right conditions they just won’t develop and it’s much harder to get those ingredients from mountainous terrain.”

According to the National Weather Service, the key atmospheric conditions that lead to tornadoes are instability — warm, moist air near the ground and cool, dry air up high — and wind sheer, two ingredients found in supercell thunderstorms.

Mountainous areas typically have cooler, more stable air and lack the conditions to support a tornado. When tornadoes do happen, they tend to be weaker on the EF scale, ranging from zero to five.

But with the perfect storm, a tornado can touch down anywhere in Colorado, including the Rocky Mountains.

Thursday’s tornado touched down on Pikes Peak at 2 p.m., just above 9,000 feet in elevation. Meteorologists estimate the storm reached wind speeds of 108 mph along its 2.18-mile path.

Simcoe said the tornado caused extensive tree damage, uprooting some trees and snapping others, but no one was injured in the storm.

Despite the elevation, the Rocky Mountains are no stranger to tornadoes. One touched down at 11,900 feet on Mount Evans in 2012 and another hit Greenhorn Mountain at 12,300 feet in 2017.

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