What I saw this day was nothing I could have ever expected. A large hail storm ravaged the eastern plains of Colorado, producing and an eerie, cold, and vastly different landscape than the 80+ degree weather I left just 30 minutes earlier.
As I headed east toward Ellicot, Colorado from Schriever Air Force Base, it didn’t look like I was driving into any ordinary storm. In fact, it looked more like a blizzard rather than a thunderstorm. Something you’d expect to see in December or January, but not in August. As I drove on, I was greeted by a powerful rush of foggy damp air. Apparently, I had just missed the wrath of the storm, but I was about to get caught up in its path of destruction.
The overall scene was almost breathtaking in a way. The sky blended almost perfectly into the fog that was hovering just above the ground. In fact, there were 3 distinct levels of clouds … the sky was uniform overcast, a layer of fog extended just beneath the cloud base, and a thin layer of fog hovered about 10 feet from the ground.
From a distance, the surrounding area looked like it was covered in snow, but that was hardly the case. Instead, golf-ball sized hail covered the countryside. In some places, the hail piled up as high as 7 inches. Since I was the first in the area (and perhaps the only crazy one), I was blazing a new trail. Let me say that 7 inches of snow is one thing, 7 inches of golf ball sized hail is another. Driving was a bit difficult, even in my 4×4. I was slipping and sliding all over the place. Slowly but surely, I made my way down the desolate road.
I came to a point in the road where I was able to safely stop. As I set up the tripod, I heard a strange noise. It almost sounded like rocks were tumbling over one another with a little bit of water thrown in. As I looked off the side of the road, I noticed the hail which covered the ground had ever so slight a motion to it. Upon closer inspection I realized the hail was floating on top of what appeared to be a small pond, (not uncommon out on the plains where animals graze). I packed up and continued down the road only to realize that pond was a lot bigger than it should have been. In fact, it appeared as if there was quite of water.
Just up the road, I stopped again … wondering if I should proceed. As I looked around, I realized both sides of the road were completely submerged in water. In fact, as far as the eye could see, there was water everywhere! The hail storm dropped so much precipitation that the eastern plains of Colorado had turned into an ocean reminiscent of the arctic sea, and the road I was traveling on was literally just inches above flood level. Just ahead, the water had trans-versed half the road and piled hail about 4′ high. This hail dam was holding back a tremendous amount of water and more was on the way. There was no way I was stopping to take pictures.
A little further up was a small mobile home community. A torrent of water mixed with golf ball sized hail stones was gushing between the homes like a class 3 rapid. There was so much water, it managed to wash these two vehicles either off the road or out of the driveway of some nearby mobile homes. I couldn’t stay long since I was driving through a gully in about 12″ of water. It was hard to tell if I was still on the road or not. It’s possible the road had been washed out because it felt like I was driving on a dirt and rocks. Some propane tanks were half submerged and a couple of mobile homes were just a few feet from totally being washed away.
The further I drove, the worse it got (and the fewer pictures I took). Torrents of water from the hail storm were now rushing by on both sides of the road. At one point, about 80 feet of the road had been undercut and washed away by the class 3 rapid of water. Once again, hail had piled up about 4′ high creating another dam. I was down to one lane and was extremely nervous. If I got caught in this, I’d be in big trouble. I didn’t feel comfortable making a 6 point turn in 7″ of hail with water rushing by on both sides and a 6 foot drop off. My only option was to keep moving forward.
Just ahead, there was a rise in the road. Not to my surprise, a few vehicles were waiting unsure if they should proceed. A Honda Accord was the first to go … I don’t know how far she got, but I imagine the first hail damn stopped her cold. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was too nervous. The further I went, the faster I wanted to get out of there. At any point, I felt like I’d be washed off into the foggy abyss. The hail dams were the most nerve racking point in the chase. They just looked like they were about to burst and since the water seemed to rise with time I’m sure they did. I have no idea where all the water came from. I mean, this hail storm must have dumped several inches of rain and 7″ of hail in just 30 minutes. That’s insane.