Aug. 19 cold front was ‘fuse to a powder keg,’ Grand Junction meteorologist says

A cold front moving across Utah and into Colorado in the middle of the August monsoon season was something of a disaster going somewhere to happen.

As it happened, the slow-moving disaster on Aug. 19 took place in sparsely populated areas of the arid Western wildlands and eastern Utah, then moved into more heavily populated western Colorado, where it damaged buildings from Hotchkiss to Olathe, the National Weather Service said.

The atmospheric upheaval of a cold front moving across the region that already was heavy with subtropical moisture was “kind of like a fuse to a powder keg,” said Jim Pringle, warning-coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction.

A trail of destruction across the states “is consistent with the location of the cold front that day moving from west to east,” Pringle said.

First was the flooding that washed out Mineral Road north of Canyonlands National Park in eastern Utah, which took place between 2 and 3 p.m. on Aug. 19.

The flood stranded 29 people, and many vehicles remain at Mineral Bottom because there is no road they can be driven up, according to Grand County, Utah, authorities.

“Can you imagine if someone had been on that road when this thing occurred?” Pringle said, marveling at the break of fortune that left no one dead and no injuries reported.

Later that day, strong winds buffeted the Delta County and Olathe areas, causing damage to a house and snapping a power pole, as well as damaging a recreational vehicle.

That was shortly before a strong gust of wind that some likened to a tornado burst through Hotchkiss between 4:30 and 5 p.m., causing serious damage. The sudden storm sent a blast of water through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, Pringle said.

“We don’t know if it was the same microburst,” Pringle said of the storms in Colorado. “It could have been a separate cell.”

The same day, the weather service issued flash-flood warnings in Rio Blanco County, but heard no reports of damage.

“Just because we haven’t heard anything doesn’t mean nothing happened,” Pringle said.


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