DENVER — Cleanup is underway across a 6-mile long storm damage path in Highlands Ranch after high wind, hail and a confirmed tornado wreaked havoc Thursday afternoon.
Storm damage was also reported in other parts of the Denver metro and Front Range after another round of severe weather dropped large hail and damaging winds.
The first reports of severe weather began around 3 p.m. with an ominous alert from the National Weather Service in Boulder warning of "Destructive baseball-sized hail" possible for Denver, Lakewood and Littleton. "People and animals outdoors will be severely injured," the warning continued.
Videos from Denver7 viewers showed hail dumping on parts of Morrison and across the southwest portion of the Denver metro area.
Roughly 20 minutes later, the first tornado warning was issued for Arapahoe and Douglas counties and dispatch services in the county began receiving reports of damage.
Deborah Takahara, public information director with Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said the county had received 282 calls reporting weather damage in their neighborhoods.
“The most damage that we have seen are trees down across roads, trees down into homes and some roofs damaged, some homes damaged, some structures damaged” said Takahara.
Thursday evening, the National Weather Service in Boulder preliminarily rated the tornado as an EF-1 based upon early analysis of damage. The Enhanced Fujita Scale ranking puts the wind gusts between 86 and 110 mph, according to the NWS.
Photos: Highlands Ranch tornado, damage from Thursday's storm
As cleanup efforts continue, Highlands Ranch Metro District has set up two different drop-off sites for tree limbs damaged during the storm. Follow this link for Highlands Ranch locations and other places to drop off storm debris across the Denver metro.
Douglas County on Friday issued a disaster declaration which allows for support and resources from the state.
*Preliminary* Damage Track. This is not the exact track but it should be close. Added points are damage reports we've received so far. Prelim length 6.3 miles. We are evaluating all photos to assign an EF-rating and may do a damage survey tomorrow if needed. #COwx pic.twitter.com/BUTlrpHCYv— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) June 22, 2023
DougCo’s Office of Emergency Management activated its emergency operations center to standby to take calls and support the community. DougCo sheriff’s deputies would continue to survey storm damage as recovery and cleanup efforts continued Friday.
Officials urged the public to stay clear of damaged areas to allow emergency crews space to respond to the cleanup.
“What we really need people to do right now is to stay off the roads. You see that traffic signals are down, traffic lights are not working properly,” said Takahara.
People can use Douglas County’s non-emergency line to report weather-related issues at 303-660-7500.
There have been no reported injuries as of Friday morning.
Multiple other severe weather warnings were issued, including a tornado warning for Lone Tree. But by 4 p.m., all tornado warnings were lifted.
South Metro Fire Rescue responded to dozens of calls in Highlands Ranch south of C-470 between Lucent and Quebec for storm-related damage including roof damage, trees down, natural gas leaks and electrical problems.
During the brunt of the storm, Xcel Energy reported over 9,000 customers without power around the Denver metro area, according to its outage map. By Thursday evening there were still some outages reported.
Gov. Jared Polis approved a verbal declaration of disaster emergency for extreme weather related to severe weather in Lincoln, Elbert, El Paso, and Washington counties.
The declaration authorizes "the use of funds and permits the use of Special Delegation of State Controller’s Contract Signature Authority, and allows Colorado OEM to mobilize state resources, and encumber and expend these funds as determined by the Director of the OEM,"
Along with damage from large hail, high winds and the confirmed tornado, flash flood warnings were issued across eastern Colorado. A flash flood watch remains in effect for a portion of the Denver metro area until midnight.
In the video below, you can watch coverage as the tornadic storm unfolded Thursday.