Red Rocks Hailstorm Injures 80 to 90, Amphitheater Blamed for Slow Response | Westword

Concert-goers Injured by Hail at Red Rocks Blame Venue for Slow Response

Managers said they were "having a little talk with Mother Nature about this weather business."
Hail at Red Rocks during the June 21 storm.
Hail at Red Rocks during the June 21 storm. Twitter/@StylinsonLuv28
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A massive hailstorm wreaked havoc at a Louis Tomlinson show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre last night, June 21 — unleashing golf- and tennis-ball-sized projectiles onto thousands of attendees, many of whom were unable to seek shelter in time.

An estimated eighty to ninety people wound up being treated for injuries, with at least seven of them being taken to area hospitals, according to West Metro Fire officials.

Photos posted on social media showed concert-goers with large welts and bruises on their heads and bodies. The storm also caused extensive property damage to people's vehicles.

At around 9:40 a.m. this morning, Red Rocks tweeted out its official response to the mayhem — joking that it was "having a little talk with Mother Nature about this weather business." Social media users weren't laughing, however, and are blasting the venue for being both tone deaf and complicit in what happened, as are local meteorologists.

Weather experts tell Westword that many early warning signs indicated the possibility of a severe hailstorm up to a day before the event, and that this entire thing could've been avoided.

"This [concert] shouldn't have happened," says 9News meteorologist Chris Bianchi, a former Westword contributor. "Yesterday had all the hallmarks of a big hail day."

According to Bianchi, events like these — where there's a sustained period of heavy lightning in close proximity to the Morrison amphitheater — should have been enough reason for officials to call off the concert long before the hail even became a threat.

What's most concerning to Bianchi is the fact that the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a severe weather warning for an area including Red Rocks at 9:04 p.m, indicating that "golf ball sized hail" was possible.

At 9:07 p.m., NWS sent out an alert reading: "Multiple severe thunderstorms in the Denver metro, in addition to the storms in the northeast plains. Up to golf ball sized hail has been reported near Evergreen!"

According to a series of tweets from Red Rocks, the venue did not announce a weather delay until 9:14 p.m.

Prior to that, the amphitheater had issued a weather delay at 8:07 p.m. for lightning, which lasted until 8:35 p.m. The show wasn't officially declared canceled until 10:35 p.m.

According to Brian Kitts, Denver's spokesperson for Red Rocks, officials and organizers for any kind of outdoor event in the city or surrounding areas — such as Red Rocks concerts, Colorado Rapids games, events at the Botanic Gardens and more — all rely on a weather service called Skyview.

"This happens all the time at Red Rocks," Kitts says. "If it looks like it's going to be stormy, Skyview will chime in and say, 'There's lightning in your area, you should delay the show,' and then [officials] give a warning, and then [Skyview] also gives a thumbs-up when it's time to get back on stage."

Kitts calls last night's weather event a "once-in-a-lifetime thing." He says Red Rocks has never encountered a situation before where officials received a weather alert from Skyview and then had that weather move in so quickly after the warning.

"We had about ten minutes between the time that we got the first 'seek shelter' notice from Skyview and the time that all hell broke loose," Kitts says.

He is unable to confirm the exact time that Red Rocks officials received that alert from Skyview or any discrepancy between the time the venue received it or when NWS sent out its general alert to the public. Bianchi stresses that the NWS warning of "golf ball sized hail" and severe weather should have prompted immediate and urgent action to get concert-goers to shelter and safety. He describes the effect of hail this size falling on someone as being "destructive and horrible."

"To be clear, a warning means it's either taking place or imminent. A warning is, 'This is happening or about to happen,'" Bianchi explains. "As a meteorologist...this was not an average afternoon Colorado shower/thunderstorm. ... This looked like a bad storm, and the conditions were there all day for a bad storm."

According to Kitts, Red Rocks officials were not aware of the severity of the incoming weather when they received alerts from Skyview. "When Skyview said, 'You should issue the seek shelter notice,' at that point, we didn't know that there was going to be hail or how big it was," he says.

Skyview did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Beginning early Thursday morning, Red Rocks officials and Denver Parks & Recreation teamed up with insurance agents and other staff to start a debrief of what happened, according to Kitts.

In regard to changing Red Rocks' severe weather policy or procedures moving forward, Kitts tells Westword: "I think we're going to do a couple of things differently. I think the first is trying to educate fans a little bit better on what to do in case of an emergency." He says Red Rocks has experienced numerous severe weather events and concert delays this season — though nothing as serious as last night.

"Our first night [this season] was canceled because of a wildfire. Then we had torrential rains, but the artist, Billy Strings, showed up and did two nights with sold-out crowds in torrential rains," Kitts recalls. "So weather is part of not just Red Rocks, but outdoor events in general. But I think sort of helping people understand how that stuff plays out — and, especially when there's an emergency, don't stand around taking video of the content. Just get into a shelter."

Kitts adds, "I don't know that, sometimes, fans take it as seriously as they should. Just in general. I think we're going to be leaning into telling fans, 'When we say take shelter, we mean it.'"

One concert-goer, Abby Castro, recalls hearing an announcer tell the audience, "'We're back on a weather delay,'" a few minutes after 9 p.m.

The announcer advised the crowd to seek shelter, but — according to Castro — they did not seem to communicate any sense of urgency. Some concert-goers "weren't sure about leaving," with many standing around the exits trying to decide what to do.

About five minutes after the advisory to seek shelter, the announcer came back on the speakers and told the crowd in a stern voice to "Seek shelter now," Castro says, noting how the hail started "less than a minute later."

She and two of her friends were stuck in the crowd, squatting down and using their arms to protect their heads. Luckily, one of the pals was able to push them all into a nearby bathroom — which soon became packed with concert-goers.
click to enlarge Hail at Red Rocks during the June 21 storm.
Hail that made its way into the bathroom during the storm.
Kassi Cook
"People were standing on toilets, they were sitting on stalls. They were sitting and standing on sinks to make room for more people," Castro recalls. "You could hear people screaming and crying."

One person in the bathroom had a swollen and potentially broken hand.

By the time the hail calmed down and Castro and her friends were able to get back to their car — which was covered in dents — the icy projectiles had piled up on the ground several inches deep.
click to enlarge Hail at Red Rocks during the June 21 storm.
Hail in the Red Rocks parking lot after the storm.
Abby Castro
On social media, other concert-goers have given similar accounts of the chaos.

One fan described trying to take shelter in a concessions area, but says he was blocked by an angry employee. He and others eventually pushed their way inside anyway, but the workers reportedly started screaming at them again as soon as the hail subsided.

Kitts says that Red Rocks officials will be looking into that incident and other claims of concession workers mocking attendees and refusing to let them seek shelter. "That's appalling if that's what happened," he tells Westword. Generally, audience members should have been allowed to take shelter wherever possible, Kitts adds.

In response to the incident, headliner Louis Tomlinson tweeted: "Devastated about the show tonight, hope everyone’s ok, I’ll be back! Even though we didn’t play the show I felt all of your passion! Sending you all love!"

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