Craig resident Karen Baileu spotted this funnel cloud just before noon Saturday about 12 miles north of Craig. Only one or two funnel clouds a year might touch down in Northwest Colorado, but wind gusts from strong thunderstorms still can be damaging, National Weather Service officials reported.

Karen Baileu/Courtesy Photo

Craig resident Karen Baileu spotted this funnel cloud just before noon Saturday about 12 miles north of Craig. Only one or two funnel clouds a year might touch down in Northwest Colorado, but wind gusts from strong thunderstorms still can be damaging, National Weather Service officials reported.

Funnel clouds spotted Saturday near Craig

Weather Service: Tornadoes in Northwest Colorado are rare and usually weak

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If you happened to glance to the northern sky at about noon Saturday, you might have seen a strange gray cloud twisting toward the ground.

But don't go running for the ruby slippers just yet; neither of the two funnel clouds spotted touched down.

On Saturday, the National Weather Service received reports of a funnel cloud about 12 miles north of Craig at 12:08 p.m. and another two miles northeast of Rangely just after 2 p.m.

"There was a very strong cold front moving through Saturday from Wyoming, and there was moisture in place, so we started to see some rotation," said Mike Chamberlain, weather service meteorologist in Grand Junction. "Those thunderstorms were very strong."

The funnel clouds - not technically tornadoes until they touch the ground - are not entirely uncommon in Northwest Colorado, Chamberlain said.

Usually, one or two funnel clouds a year might touch down.

"They're relatively weak," Chamberlain said. "They're not real strong like they are on the plains. They'll usually register from zero to one on our scale because there just isn't the moisture environment here that there is on the plains."

He said tornadoes in the Western Slope region will not usually be the type to take out an entire town. However, if a funnel cloud is spotted, the conditions still could be dangerous.

"They can still produce 70 or 80 mph winds," he said. "That could definitely cause some damage. People should be aware and concerned, though it just doesn't happen that often."

On Saturday, the weather service recorded gusts as high as 33 mph in the Craig area.

Funnel clouds are spun low in the clouds of very strong thunderstorms. Weather service radar, the closest tower being in Grand Junction, is designed to send out beams to detect signals that might show signatures of funnel cloud formation.

Chamberlain said a severe thunderstorm warning was in effect Saturday, but no tornado warning had been issued for the area.

"We did see some weak signatures that might indicate the possibility for tornadoes," he said. "It is within our realm of responsibility to get that information across to the public."

However, with varying elevations, the weather service radar sends out signals too high to sense the activity low in the clouds as far away as Craig, he said.

He recommended using common sense if high winds threaten damage in the area.

Take shelter, he said, preferably in a building with a basement, and avoid the storm if driving.

If you see a funnel cloud, report it to law enforcement, which will relay the information to the weather service and alert the public.

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com

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