DENVER — A rare quarter-mile-wide tornado cut a swath across mainly open country in southeastern Wyoming, damaging homes, derailing empty train cars and leaving one person with minor injuries, officials said.
The twister was part of a powerful storm system that rolled through parts of Colorado and Wyoming Thursday afternoon and evening, packing heavy rains, high winds and hail. The storms followed a round of nasty late spring weather that pummeled the region Wednesday.
Thursday's tornado in a sparsely populated area near Wheatland, Wyo., left five structures heavily damaged, and 10 to 12 other structures had lesser damage, said Kelly Ruiz of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security. One of the destroyed homes was vacant, said radio station owner Kent Smith, speaking for the Platte County Sheriff's Office.
One person was treated at a hospital for a cut on the head, Smith said.
Another man survived the collapse of his house by climbing into his bathtub, The Casper Star-Tribune reported. Photographs from the newspaper show an irrigation pipe wrapped around a post and the roof of a home ripped off.
National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Emanuel said the tornado was one-quarter mile wide and stayed on the ground for much of its 20-mile path from west of Wheatland to northeast of Chugwater. The area is about 60 miles north of Cheyenne.
"It stayed pretty much over open country," Emanuel said. "It didn't hit any towns or cities."
A twister of that size and duration on the ground was unusual for Wyoming, he said.
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad crew reported the tornado struck a stopped train near Wheatland, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said. Five empty train cars derailed onto their sides.
Some power lines also were downed, Ruiz said.
Hail the size of golf balls was reported in the Wheatland area, and 2-inch hail was reported in Laramie, National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Trudel said.
Four tornadoes also touched down in Colorado. One damaged at least seven homes in Elbert County, on the plains southeast of Denver. County officials said two homes lost roofs and others had broken windows.
They also received a report of one minor injury, county emergency management spokeswoman Kara Gerczynski said. Meanwhile, 2.5-inch hail was reported in El Paso County near Peterson Air Force Base.
Bernie Meier, a weather service meteorologist in Boulder, said a storm that crossed into the state from Wyoming hit the Greeley area with large hail. The Greeley Tribune reported that crops were damaged and some residents awoke Friday to the smell of onions, which were pelleted by hail.
Thursday's storms came as Colorado businesses were cleaning up the mess after a storm system brought about five tornadoes, hail up to 8 inches deep and heavy rain Wednesday night. No serious damage was reported from the tornadoes Wednesday, but snowplows were called out in Douglas County to clear hail, and firefighters in Colorado Springs rescued about 40 people from flooded cars and homes.
Insurers reported receiving several hundred home and automobile claims in Colorado before the new wave of storms arrived Thursday.
The rain provided some help to firefighters who fully contained a 227-acre wildfire in northern Colorado, but the weather initially hurt efforts to control a 6,000-acre blaze in Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest.
Storms passed close to the Wyoming fire but mostly brought gusty winds that fanned the flames. Rain and hail fell later and slowed the growth of the fire but were not enough to put it out.
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