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On the evening of June 6, 1990, an ominous dark funnel cloud descended from a massive thunderstorm near the town of Limon, Colorado. Within minutes, an F3 tornado roared through the heart of town, packing winds of 150–200 mph. After the tornado passed, many businesses and homes lay in ruins. Miraculously, no lives were lost.

Colorado’s tornado activity rivals that of the much better known Tornado Alley. In fact, Colorado ranks sixth among U.S. states in average number of tornadoes per year. In the 1990s, an average of about 60 tornadoes raked the state each year. In 1996, a record 98 tornadoes were reported. The thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes are also very frequent; only one other U.S. state has more thunderstorms each year—Florida.

Almost all of Colorado’s tornado activity occurs in the plains east of the Rocky Mountains. Tornadoes are comparatively rare in mountainous areas because the rugged terrain tends to disrupt the storm conditions needed for tornado formation.

Despite eastern Colorado’s high tornado activity, no lives have been lost in several decades. This is partly due to the fact that Colorado’s tornadoes tend to be relatively weak, with most tornadoes classified as F1 or F0 (possessing wind speeds of less than 110 mph). Another reason is that the eastern plains of Colorado are sparsely populated.

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Photo credits: © Corbis Images, © NCAR, © NOAA, courtesy NEWS4, Colorado's news channel.