Wildcat Acres, Milliken - Tornado! November 2004
Twister takes a spin through area Monday afternoon
No one hurt; some damage done in both communities
By Martin B. Hamilton
While it may have not reached the wind speeds necessary for official classification as such, to the residents of
Johnstown and Milliken, one thing is as clear as Monday afternoon's sky before all the excitement started.
It was a tornado.
Johnstown and Milliken were among about a dozen areas reporting sightings of funnel clouds that began earlier in
the afternoon, with tornados also touching down north of the Denver metro area in Adams County, a waterspout on
Barr Lake and extensions dipping from the sky near Greeley.
No injuries, but quite a stir
While luckily Monday's storm didn't result in any reported injuries, it created its share of stories.
Shae Courrejou said she and her children were in their Wildcat Acres home south of Milliken when suddenly, a
tornado literally charged through their backyard.
"Our windows were open, and it got windy," she said. "I went to close them, and our son started screaming, 'Oh my
gosh! What's happening?' I told the kids to get in the basement. By the time we came back up, it was in the field and
stuff was in the tornado spinning around."
Courrejou said patio furniture, toys and the cover to their hot tub were lifted into the air by the funnel.
"I could see our yellow slide spinning in the tornado," she said. "We haven't found it yet. We had a big, green trash
can and found that down on (Weld County Road) 19 and found a little bit of what was left of our patio furniture."
Courrejou laughed when she said she watched the movie "Twister" on television Sunday night, but remarked that
Monday's reality "was a little too close for me.
"I would rather watch it on TV," she said.
Sgt. Benito Garcia, interim police chief in Milliken, reported minor damage to some structures in Wildcat Acres.
"There were three homes that the tornado hit, but it was just some fence damage, garden furniture and stuff thrown
around," he said. "A garage was damaged, and a motor home had some windows damaged.
"I talked to a witness, and she said it looked like one of those dust devils that started from the ground and started
turning. Then it came straight toward her house, so she and her dog went down in the basement," Garcia said.
Watching the tornado take a northwest course, Courrejou said, "It (then) headed toward Johnstown."
Funnel skirts edges of downtown
The dusty whirlwind, with a fine, white line of a funnel erratically attached, whipped along the east side of Johnstown
at about 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, lifting dust and debris high into the sky as it followed the Great Western
Railroad tracks on a westward path.
Other small funnels were noticed poking down from the clouds as the storm arched east of town in the form of a
As the tornado twisted past Sticker Stadium, Johnstown Feed & Seed, Advanced Petroleum Concepts and American
Pride, on its way to stirring up a corn field, the dust devil -- which measured about 30 feet across and at least twice
as high into the air -- spun dirt, trash, tumbleweeds and anything else it could pick up.
Johnstown Police Chief Reggie Mayes witnessed the twister go through town.
"I watched it from the ballpark," he said, "and it cut between the car wash and the feed store and went right up that
angle and through APC (Advanced Petroleum) and dumped over a semi-trailer and then hit the fertilizer company."
The sound of sheet metal being crumpled was heard as an aluminum shed was destroyed next to the American
Pride office, which also had several shingles lifted off its roof.
As it passed through town, people stood a few hundred feet away and watched the anomaly. One woman, who
identified herself as coming from "Tornado Alley in Oklahoma," hurried up the sidewalk southbound on Parish
Avenue, saying she was "freaked out, because I've got kids at home."
No alarm to sound
Both Johnstown and Milliken once had sirens that were used to call volunteer firefighters, and which could possibly
be used as an early-warning system if needed. Both sirens are long-ago out of use, however.
Johnstown Mayor Troy Mellon, another eyewitness to Monday's events, said the town is looking at whether the
reverse-911 system now in place through Weld County could have been used to warn residents. Mellon said he was
in town hall when the tornado blew through town.
"We were heading to a meeting, and I told (Johnstown Police) Chief (Reggie) Mayes and he called Weld County
"I glanced to the north and saw a second one nearly over the (Big Thompson) river and I wondered, 'What is
happening?'" Mellon said he saw the funnel to the north retreat into the clouds "pretty quickly, but the one to the
east hit an open field and hit the dirt, and you could see the dust just explode.
"As it was coming closer to town, you couldn't tell where it was going to cross in town. It could've come right through
the center of town. We were lucky, but it was a pretty weak one in any case."
Checking the damage
Later, as the sun was setting, Chad Flaugher and his family were among the curious to walk along the north edge of
town to check the damage at American Pride. "We live close by," he said. "I can dang near throw a rock from my
house to over here."
Flaugher found that out after coming home from his work in Greeley, where he initially spotted the storm.
"I called my wife and said, 'There's a neat funnel cloud to look at,'" he recalled. "She asked where it was, and I said,
Kristi Flaugher said, "Our neighbor was driving up (N. 2nd Street) and had to back up to keep from hitting it."
The Flaughers' two oldest children were at their sitter's house when the storm came through.
"We were in the basement," said Westley Kuehne, 8, who added that he wasn't aware a tornado was outside. "All we
were doing was playing," he said.
1928 twister in Johnstown killed three
Although it is unusual for a tornado to spin through this area, especially at this time of year, it wasn't the first. A
much larger and more powerful tornado ripped through Johnstown 76 years ago, when three people died and
several others were injured. Susie McLaughlin, 47, Adeline Montez, 17, and C.P. Johnson, 50, perished in the storm.
On June 29, 1928, the twister touched down in farmland southwest of Johnstown and traveled northeast, damaging
buildings and tearing up the landscape along the way. Estimated damage was $100,000.
Following that storm, residents reported finding hay straw literally impaled into trees and power poles. Other stories
that have circulated through the years are of one resident who found documents that had been kept in the home
miles away from their damaged house, and chickens, which had been "plucked" of their feathers, but which were still
If it happens again, what should you do?
The National Weather Service suggests people outside should seek shelter in a nearby reinforced building. As a
last resort, if you are outside, get into a culvert, ditch or low spot and cover your head with your hands.
The safest place during a tornado is in the basement of a building, where you should get underneath a piece of
sturdy furniture. If there is no basement, seek shelter on the building's lowest floor in an interior hallway or closet.
Use blankets or pillows to cover yourself.
Always, stay away from windows.
This photo was taken Monday afternoon in the
Wildcat Acres subdivision on the southwest edge