Storm spotters alert area

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Storm spotters performed well on Friday night, according to local emergency preparedness personnel.

Though the storm moved quickly through Roosevelt and Curry counties, a warning time of 15 to 20 minutes was available to the communities in its path.

Roosevelt County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Keith Wattenbarger said spotters include volunteer emergency personnel and citizen volunteers.

“Initially we just started watching the weather,” Wattenbarger said. “We noticed that what the National Weather Service was putting out was very accurate.”

Initially Capt. Scott Chambers of the Portales Police Department went west of Portales while Wattenbarger went south toward Dora and Causey. Early indications were that a bad storm was tracking between Floyd and Melrose. Wattenbarger said it was indeed a potent storm but no funnels were sighted and attention was turned south shortly before 6 p.m.

“We didn’t initially realize that what came out of the south was going to be so heavy,” Wattenbarger said, but with updated radar reports they became aware of a wall cloud capable of producing a tornado.

John Mohan, Milnesand’s fire chief, said he was alerted by the National Weather Service around 5:30 p.m. Friday of a severe storm approaching. He set up on a hill six miles east of Milnesand and watched as the cloud turned meaner looking and he noticed circulation. At 6:05 p.m. he spotted the first funnel touching down. He later learned it had popped down in David and Susie Thomas’ pasture near Milnesand.
Mohan, a certified storm spotter more than 10 years, then moved with the storm on its east side and later heard reports of people seeing a twister touch down from the other side of what he believes was the same cloud bank.

Dora Fire Chief Paul Luscombe was one of those who saw the tornado after it touched down north and east of Dora. He said he was able to watch it for about 15 minutes as it headed toward Arch. He and Wattenbarger both followed the storm from its west side.

“We watched it forever but couldn’t make out a debris field,” Luscombe said.

He said the track he watched it travel put it on line with the dairy on Cacahuate Road that was destroyed and the area of Clovis that was hit. He said he’s pretty sure it was the same cloud.

Wattenbarger, on the job as emergency preparedness director since March 3, said plans were already in place to hold a storm spotters school in Roosevelt County in cooperation with the NWS on April 10. He said more spotters are needed, but he had high praise for those in the field Friday.

“They were invaluable to us this time,” Wattenbarger said.

Wattenbarger said emergency sirens were never activated in Portales, though ample time was available had emergency warnings been necessary.

In Dora, Luscombe said a Little Dribblers basketball tournament was going on as the storm approached. He said sirens warned residents of possible dangers at least 15 minutes before the storm arrived.

Timeline

5:30 p.m. — NWS alerts storm spotter and Milnesand Fire Chief John Mohan to watch a cloud with rotating winds coming out of northern Lea County.

6:05 p.m. — Mohan spots a funnel cloud to the west of his position on a hill six miles east of Milnesand. He alerts NWS it is on the ground.

6:15 p.m. — Mohan gets a call from Milnesand area resident David Thomas, saying the twister had touched down in his pasture.

6:38 p.m. — Portales dispatchers log a call of a funnel cloud sighted near Causey.

7 p.m. — Another spotter reported a sighting to Portales dispatch of a tornado on the ground northeast of Dora.

7:58 p.m. — Portales dispatch logs a call from another caller of a large tornado on the ground east of U.S. 70 on Cacahuate Road. The caller said it is headed toward Clovis.