By Jack King
May and June are peak tornado times for eastern New Mexico, which is on the far western edge of the nation’s “Tornado Alley.”
And local officials take regular steps to prepare for potential storm damage, said Clovis/Curry County Emergency Management Director Ken De Los Santos — even though tornadoes are rare around Clovis and Portales.
De Los Santos said no tornadoes were reported in the Clovis area last year and there was only one tornado warning and one tornado watch. A high-wind incident five years ago was caused by a severe downburst, not a tornado, he said.
Ken Droze, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said last year was unusually dry, with a weak monsoon season. Those conditions might have pushed the “dry line” further east. The “dry line” is a weather phenomenon where dry Western air meets moist Eastern air, resulting in the thunderstorms from which tornadoes are born, Droze said.
On average, New Mexico sees nine tornadoes a year, with most of those in the eastern part of the state. That’s quite a bit less than states nearby, Droze said. Colorado receives an average of 24 tornadoes a year. Kansas gets an average of 36; Oklahoma gets 47; and Texas — in part because of its size — sees an average of 137, he said.
But, just in case, the city of Clovis maintains 10 tornado-warning sirens around town that are tested at 4 p.m. every Wednesday, De Los Santos said.
The Emergency Management office trains severe weather spotters and trained an additional 32 spotters in March. It also works with area radio operators, both training them to spot possible tornadoes and using them to provide communications in case official radio communications go down in a storm, he said.
Law enforcement agencies, city and county officials have signed memoranda of understanding about working together during disasters and hold at least two training sessions a year, he said.
The sessions are operated at three levels, table-top sessions, functional sessions and full-scale sessions. In a table-top session, officials sit down together to discuss possible scenarios and determine their readiness. In a functional session, the officials run through possible scenarios, but the run-throughs consist of phone calls and discussions. In a full-scale session, police, fire departments and hospitals are asked to carry out their emergency response procedures and volunteers from the community portray accident victims, De Los Santos said.
The area’s last full-scale scenario was carried out in 2001, in partnership with Roosevelt County personnel. The next one is planned for 2005, he added.