Tornado touches down at Denver International Airport, east side of DIA concourse

DENVER - A confirmed tornado touched down at Denver International Airport Tuesday afternoon, sending travelers on the concourse, on planes and in the terminal scrambling to get into tornado shelters.

The tornado touched down east of the airport concourse around 2:22 p.m. bringing winds measured around 97 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

"It didn't move, it hardly looked like it was moving at all," said 7NEWS Photographer and Storm Chaser Cory Reppenhegen. "It was fairly solid, it wasn't roping, but it was pointed straight down, kinda like a drill bit. But there was not a lot of material in the funnel. It might have been just kicking up the topsoil."

The tornado was moving northeast, at roughly 5 mph, before it lifted, weakened and then dissipated, Reppenhegen said.

No injuries or damage were reported.

The tornado warning for Denver, Adams and Arapahoe Counties, including the airport and terminal, was first issued at 2:05 p.m. At 2:17 p.m., DIA's operations center confirmed a tornado touched down on airport property.

The tornado was on the ground for at least 5-10 minutes, according to 24/7 Meteorologist Matt Makens.

Travelers at DIA were instructed to seek shelter in designated areas such as the restrooms, stairwells and the basement, leaving the concourse eerily empty for about 30 minutes.

Ashley Picillo, who was flying out to Seattle, said she was eating lunch when overhead public announcements began.

"We were very quickly escorted into the shelters. A lot of people were brought into bathrooms. We were actually brought into a lower level stairwell," Picillo said.  "They brought water in for people, did a really nice job keeping everyone informed."

"We want all the people, if they are at the airport, to move away from the windows [and] get themselves into one of those designated shelter areas. That's the safest place to be right now," said DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery when the tornado warning was first issued.

Members of the Colorado Rapids team were already aboard a plane, preparing to leave for Chicago, when they were taken off the plane and escorted to the basement and bathrooms.

A Frontier spokeswoman said all Frontier aircraft that had boarded were emptied and all passengers and employees moved to safe areas in the terminal.

Nine flights from Frontier, Southwest, Delta, Air Canada, and United Express were diverted to nearby airports in Colorado Springs, Amarillo, and Cheyenne, the airport said.

Denver police held vehicle traffic on Pena Boulevard near 40 Avenue.

The all-clear was sounded at the airport around 2:45 p.m. and all tornado warnings for the area have since expired. The airport resumed normal operations around 3 p.m. However, it appears that all flights were delayed for about 30 minutes.

"We're very thankful all the passengers listened to the emergency announcements. Employees took it seriously and employees helped passengers with sheltering," said DIA spokeswoman Laura Coale. "We stuck to our emergency plan."

Coale said a total of at least 10,000 people were moved to shelters.

The customer relations and service offices located near the airport also evacuated to safe areas as well, but they are now back to work online and on the phone, said  Frontier spokeswoman Kate O'Malley.

The storm also brought with it quarter-size hail. About an inch of hail was reported in Keenesburg and Bennett.

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