Spring weather brings tornado risk

By David Irvin

Gusting winds that roared across the plains Tuesday at up to 63 mph and packed enough punch to down power lines is an early indication of the volatile weather that accompanies spring in eastern New Mexico.
However, National Weather Service officials said it’s too early to tell what kind of weather the area will see over the next few months, which is the prime time for tornadic activity in the Southwest.
Moisture, lift and atmospheric instability are the elements that make for tornadoes, according to NWS meteorologist Chuck Jones. And although eastern New Mexico historically sees most of the severe weather, every year is different.
New Mexico is in the middle of Severe Weather Safety Awareness Week, an annual time set aside to make residents aware of the dangers of severe weather that can hit in the spring.
One reason for the education initiative: Technology can only do so much.
“Radar has some limitations. It takes somebody on the ground to spot a tornado,” said Doug Cain, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Midland, Texas, which monitors weather in southeast New Mexico.
As part of the initiative, the National Weather Service is holding storm spotter’s courses across the state with the intent of informing and educating people about the conditions necessary for severe weather to develop.
Such a course is being held today from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Bert Cabiness City Government Center Assembly Room, locally sponsored by Clovis/Curry County Office of Emergency Management.
“We are on the edge of tornado alley,” said Ken De Los Santos, Emergency Management Director for Clovis and Curry County. “(The courses) are for anyone who has an interest in the weather that happens in our area.”
In the event a tornado is spotted, the emergency alert system would go into effect, he said, broadcasting warnings across television and radio waves. However, sometimes they receive false positives, underscoring the importance of good education on severe weather.
“Often times we get a phone call when someone sees severe weather when it’s really not,” De Los Santos said. He said the his office follows up on leads before initiating emergency broadcasting.
Area residents can sign up for one of the storm spotter’s courses by calling 763-9485 or the Portales/Roosevelt County Office of Emergency Management at 356-4406.