High winds tear through Grand County, wreck sales tent, barn | SkyHiNews.com

High winds tear through Grand County, wreck sales tent, barn

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County Colorado

Photo by Christian Whetsell

Wind phenomena the past two days caused damage to properties.

Ski Depot Sports Sales Manager Christain Whetsell witnessed what appeared to be a mini cyclone on Tuesday when a hefty breeze came down from James and Parry peaks and collided with an up-valley breeze in mid-downtown Winter Park across the highway from his store.

“It literally met right in the middle of town, and it just instantly spun,” he said.

“Then after that, it ran up the empty lot toward the Cosmic Dog cart, and then turned left and ripped across the highway.”

Cosmic Dog Grill proprietor Fernan Deleon held onto the cart umbrellas as he witnessed the whirlwind heading toward him. Signs, napkins and menus blew off the cart as the dust devil made a 45-degree turn and crossed the highway.

“We were really lucky. My umbrellas probably would be up at Rollins Pass by now,” he said.

Before Whetsell knew it, Ski Depot’s tent sale was caught in the fury of flying debris.

“I saw it getting closer, and the only thing I could do in time was get the (store’s) two doors closed,” Whetsell said.

The dust devil swept up the 40- by 25-foot tent and some clearance gear – about 50 feet into the air. It all spiraled topsy turvy and came crashing down on the parking area.

“It probably was one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen,” Whetsell said.

No one had been shopping under the tent at the time nor was anyone hurt, but Whetsell experienced the freak wind first-hand.

“I got sandblasted with debris and mulch as I was closing the doors,” he said.

Townspeople, including Fraser-Winter Park police, helped to collect merchandise and clean up the area in the aftermath.

“It completely destroyed our tent,” the sales manager said. “We’re still trying to figure out how much merchandise got damaged.”

In western Grand County at 9 a.m. the next morning, Marsha R. DiRienzo heard wind whistling outside.

From their home at Blue Valley Acres six miles south of Kremmling, she and her neighbor noticed a rainbow that had formed.

Then suddenly, DiRienzo saw a powerful burst pick up her large steel barn weighing more than 2 tons. The wind flipped the barn over “like it was a cardboard box” as it carried it 100 feet.

“It took it to the other side of the road and landed it in the pasture next door,” she said. It also damaged the neighbor’s fence.

DiRienzo said she was relieved that her donkeys had exited the building moments before the destruction.

She said she didn’t notice a spinning motion in the wind, just an “unbelievable burst.”

“It was kind of surreal watching it – like something out of the Wizard of Oz.”

Whatever it was, “It scared the living Bejeezus out of my horses and my donkeys,” she said.

She has since put in a barn claim to State Farm.

According to the National Weather Service Web site, these windy upsurges – dust devils – are very unstable conditions when heated air becomes less dense and lighter than the cooler air above it. “If the temperature of the ground becomes much warmer than the air above it, vertical mixing will take place to release this unstable configuration. Once the ground heats up enough, a localized pocket of air will quickly rise through the cooler air above it. The sudden uprush of hot air causes air to speed horizontally inward to the bottom of the newly-forming vortex. This rapidly rising pocket of air may begin to rotate.”

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.