December 17, 2021 | NEWS | By Isaac Yee | Photo supplied
Hurricane-force winds pounded Colorado Springs on Wednesday, Dec. 15, toppling trees and causing power outages on the Colorado College campus, culminating to a predicted $500,000 to $700,000 in damages, Campus Safety said.
According to the National Weather Service, winds of up to 100mph swept across the Springs starting mid-Wednesday morning. The winds led Campus Safety to issue a “high wind warning shelter in place notice” for the CC community around 12:10 p.m. The notice stayed in effect until 4 p.m.
Across campus, at least 13 students were forced to evacuate their rooms due to damage caused by the strong winds.
“There are four students on east campus who had to evacuate due to a tree on the roof of their house and a window which was blown out,” said Cathy Buckley, Acting Director of Campus Safety. In addition, nine students in Loomis were relocated for the night due to “a tree leaning against the building and the concern of breaking windows.”
Zoe Zizzo ’25 was the unlucky student living in Loomis whose room got struck by a falling tree.
“I was in class when it fell and saw it when I was walking back from the Preserve,” Zizzo said. “President Richardson and [my RLC] came by my dorm and asked me to evacuate my room for the night.”
Zizzo added that “I had a choice of sleeping in the Boettcher Health Center or sleeping in a friend’s dorm. I chose the latter. The tree was removed from the side of Loomis [the next day] and we were allowed to return to our rooms.”
For three of the students whose east campus senior cottage was pummeled by a fallen tree on either side, FIJI — the frat house turned overflow housing for the latest campus catastrophe — is now home. After waiting out the storm in Boettcher Health Center with nothing more than their backpacks and the clothing they had on, the students received a text that the defunct frat house was prepared for them.
“We get here and it’s still Frat Party Central. There’s string lights all over, skis and crutches on the wall,” said Adriana Aboitiz ’22. “Even the shampoo looks like leftover frat-boy shampoo.”
More spooky than the remnants of a party never cleaned were what the students saw as insufficient accommodations.
“No blankets. No toothbrush. Literally, just leave us at Fiji with a [bedsheet] and a towel,” said Riley Meese ’22. “The bathroom doesn’t even have a shower curtain.”
The students were told that the soonest they can return home is early next week, when the tree may be cleared, despite the fast-approaching winter break. Aboitiz simply described how she felt, “I’m mad.”
At least a dozen trees were fully uprooted and toppled across campus according to Buckley. She said the figure did not include trees that sustained damage due to falling branches. Jonny Gamble ’24 said that he was thankful no one was hurt but that it was “so sad to see so many of our lovely trees perish.”
The winds also posed a significant danger in the form of flying debris.
“With the speed of the wind, gutters, branches, or any loose item can be dangerous,” Buckley said.
Nicholas Bohm ’23, who lives in Ticknor, said that “there were pieces of the Ticknor roof with sharp long nails flying around towards people,” posing a significant risk to student safety.
Buckley said that despite the dangers caused by the wind, there were no reports of injuries.
Students across campus also faced power outages due to downed power lines in the neighborhood. Lila Galinkin ’24 was in her geology class in Palmer Hall when the power suddenly went out.
“Halfway through my geology class, the lights started flickering before fully going out shortly after plunging our class into darkness,” however despite this, her class continued as normal.
Jonathan Farrell ’22, who lives in an east campus apartment, said he lost power in his room for several hours.
“All of our rooms were dark; the bathroom was pitch dark. We just had to feel our way around.” Farrell said that the power outage also caused a WiFi outage which made doing schoolwork difficult. He ended up working in the library which also later lost power.
As of Thursday morning, Dec. 16, most of the campus was reopened. But some areas were still affected by wind damage, including Tutt Library, which without power for the entire morning. As of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, power had been restored at the library.
An email from Campus Safety noted that “downed trees are still affecting part of Loomis Hall and Tutt Alumni House.”
According to Campus Safety, the “Facilities Services team worked throughout the day and evening Wednesday securing buildings, clearing roadways and parking areas, ensuring fire alarms and other safety mechanisms are working, and boarding all broken windows.”
When asked by The Catalyst how long repair work would take, Leslie Weddell, CC’s director of news and media relations, said that the “facilities team is actively assessing the situation, and managing the incident is their priority at the moment.”
In the wider Colorado Springs area, the Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) said they received around 635 calls for service in five hours. Incidents the CSFD responded to included everything from “fires in homes, to grass fires, to downed power lines due to trees toppled over, to even the roof blown off of our headquarters.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Mike Smaldino, the CSFD public information officer, said that “just on my drive into the city I saw about a dozen semi-trucks toppled over.”
The strong winds and the danger it posed to large trucks led the Colorado Department of Transport to restrict the travel of “high-profile vehicles” in El Paso County on I-25, CO 21 (Powers Blvd), U.S. 24, Hwy 115 & CO 83. CDOT urged truck drivers to park and shelter in place safely.
At the height of the windstorm, 34,000 people were affected by power outages according to Colorado Springs Utilities, though that number has since dropped to 11,000 as of Thursday morning.
The highest recorded wind speed in Colorado on Wednesday was in Lamar, where gusts reached up to 107 mph. Lamar Mayor Kirk Crespin said that the winds toppled semi-trucks, ripped off roofs and toppled trees. Crespin said it was a “record-breaking day for wind” in his city.
Hank Bedingfield contributed reporting to this article.