Chainsaws buzzed Thursday as folks in the Lower Arkansas Valley region began cleaning up from a storm that began pummeling the area Wednesday. Winds were still blowing at about 30 mph Thursday afternoon, but that was a big improvement from the day before.

"The strong winds developed early (Wednesday) afternoon and they were clocking in around the 60s, 67 mph," National Weather Service Meteorologist John Kalina told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. "That was around 1:20 p.m. local time. Then they went up to 83 mph. Top gust for the day was 89 mph and that was at 3:46 p.m."

Wind gusts in Cheraw were clocked at 81 mph, Lamar had 82 mph wind gusts and Crowley County experienced 71 mph winds. Sustained wind speeds throughout the area between 40 and 45 mph, the NWS reported.

In comparison, a Category 1 hurricane is defined as sustained winds of at least 74 mph.

Long time residents of Otero County are accustomed to strong winds, but 89 mph is extreme even to weather-hardened citizens of the lower Arkansas Valley. Kalina called the winds and gusts intense and stated that they weren't common.

"It was a very deep, rapid developing surface blow," said Kalina. "That's a relatively rare event to have that kind of wind with gradient winds. Once in a while, you get some strong winds from thunderstorms, but this was, of course, a non-thunderstorm event."

The danger from blowing debris and the chance for power outages resulted in the cancellation of some events and the closure of Fowler Schools on Thursday.

The La Junta High School's season-opening baseball game in Ellicott was cancelled due to snow there, as was the girls tennis team's home opener versus Colorado Springs, because of the road conditions in El Paso County.

 

Above-freezing temperatures resulted in mainly rain falling Wednesday, although a few flurries were spotted at times. The NWS reported 0.14 inches of rain in Otero County Wednesday.

Areas north of the valley received a foot or more of snow, and major roadways - including Interstate 25 - remained closed Thursday morning and weren't expected to open until the early afternoon.

At the La Junta Municipal Airport, Manager Ethan Berg said that a jet landed Thursday morning, before the wind speeds really ramped up, unloaded and then loaded passengers before taking off again without issue. He added that planes at the airport are well-sheltered from high winds.

Despite the damaging winds, only one power outage was reported in the area, and that was in Rocky Ford. 

In preparation for the storm, the Otero County Emergency Operations Center was on standby, but activation wasn't necessary.

Meteorologists in Pueblo spoke Tuesday about the potential for record-setting low pressures with the storm.

"Barometric pressure in this whole region developed late last morning into the early afternoon hours," Kalina said. "They were near-record lows, but we don't have the exact details (yet). Estimated - they're still working on that - 969 millibars. Which would be a record low in recent history."