Spring signals start of tornado season

Tonjia Rolan

Spring is a little more than a week away. So is the start of tornado season on the High Plains.

Eastern New Mexico spawns 75 percent of the state’s thunderstorms that produce tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. The state sees about 10 twisters a year and thunderstorm and tornado activity usually peak in eastern New Mexico in April and May, according to the site.

It was five years ago this month that an F2 tornado tore through Clovis, causing two deaths, injuring 35 and damaging more than 100 homes and businesses.

In an effort to train local residents to detect the early signs of deadly weather, the National Weather Service and local emergency management office are offering free Storm Spotter’s courses again this month.

Storm spotters are becoming an increasingly important element of the National Weather Service’s severe weather alert system.

In 2008, when a mile-wide F4 tornado with wind speeds of 175 mph hit Picher Okla., local storm spotter reports enabled Picher to sound its warning siren six minutes before the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning, giving residents almost 20 minutes to take cover and saving hundreds of lives, according to Missouri newspaper, the Joplin Globe.

“Storm spotters are a great asset to the community,” Clovis storm spotter Marcus Brice said.

When weather turns severe, Brice works with local emergency management authorities by observing and describing cloud bases, reporting wind direction, cloud rotation and hail size.

“Weather has always interested me,” Brice said. “It’s just another way I can help the community so people can take cover and not get hurt.”

Curry County Emergency Management Director Ken De Los Santos said he works with a group of 40 area storm spotters during severe weather threats.

“A good majority of them are amateur radio folks,” De Los Santos said. “They are able to network and provide us with information.”

Albuquerque meteorologist Kerry Jones will hold the storm spotter’s courses in Clovis and Portales on March 20.

Jones said anyone interested in public safety is invited to attend the courses which are free, open to the public and last two hours.

“We are always looking to recruit people from outlying areas like Grady and Melrose,” Jones said.

Jones said 30 to 40 people usually attend the annual Storm Spotter’s course in Clovis and 60 to 70 attend Portales sessions. Attendees must pre-register.