Tornado hits near Magdalena

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In a scenario reminiscent of “The Wizard of Oz,” Magdalena residents had the odd occurrence of a tornado touching down about two miles southwest of the village Sunday afternoon.

Courtesy Leon Rodgers: A fast and furious twister touched down just southwest of the village of Magdalena on Sunday. Village Marshal Larry Cearley reported no damage to persons or property and that the twister was on the ground three or four minutes.

Brent Wachter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, confirmed the reported tornado sighting, with official reports of hail averaging one inch in diameter. The Weather Service also issued a tornado warning between 2:15 to 3 p.m. for central Socorro County on Sunday.

Dodging a Bullet

Magdalena Marshal Larry Cearley said the village came out unscathed.

“There was no damage to property or individuals. We did experience high winds and hail approximately the size of quarters,” he said. “We were on high alert and prepared to evacuate residents to the high school or assist persons who did not wish to leave their homes to the safest location in their house — a bathtub or a room without windows.”

Cearley also confirmed Rodgers’ report that the tornado touched down on Hwy. 107 and missed hitting the village proper.

“What we understand is that the tornado touched down briefly on Highway 107 — approximately three to four minutes. The only reported damage to date was some damage to nearby fencing that resulted in debris on the road.”

According to Wachter at the Weather Service, a storm survey team was sent to Magdalena to document the intensity of the storm. Socorroans were lucky to have avoided any such weather, although torrential downpour was a factor all weekend long, with confirmed amounts of one inch. Belen also had its fair share of precipitation – the National Weather Service reports hail averaging three quarters of an inch diameter. There was also as much as one inch of rain reported.

No Joke

Magdalena resident Leon Rodgers was an eyewitness to the twister. He reported he saw the tornado touch down not far from his property, which is located on Hwy. 107, about a quarter of a mile off of U.S. 60. Rodgers said that about 2 p.m., a neighbor called him with the warning that “a twister is coming your way.”

He initially thought it to be a joke, but when he went to the window he found the weather was nothing to laugh at.

“I saw it, this swirling mass and I got my camera to take pictures,” he said. “It was southwest, not far from the compound for the forest service, and it looked like it was coming from the southwest, maybe an eighth of a mile from me on Highway 107.”

Another witness to the twister was James Cherry, who lives on the east side of town.

Cherry said he was woken from a nap by hail.

“It was not heavy, but about 1-inch in size. I looked out the front and there was the dust devil. At the time it looked like a classic tornado,” he said. “I figured it was actually an unusually big dust devil, not wanting to believe a small storm would generate a tornado.”

After the storm passed, Cherry jumped on his computer and pulled up a weather radar. Data indicated the height of the storm cloud was 23,000 feet and there was a 100 percent chance of 1-inch hail.

“The storm moved overhead and grew, and I think really cut lose half way to the southern end of Socorro,” he said.

Hail Creates Hazard

Roughly 20 miles to the east as a bird flies, Socorro only got a dose of rain and a spattering of hail from Sunday’s storm. But hail pounded parts of the city the day before.

It started with huge drops of rain mid-afternoon. However, it wasn’t long before pea-sized hail peppered the town, leaving sheets of white stuff on the ground in some areas before it melted when the sun came out after the storm passed.

The hail storm hit the northern part of the county hardest. Travelers on Interstate 25 encountered a hail-covered highway near the Socorro-Valencia county line, causing hazardous, icy driving conditions.

At least one accident resulted. At approximately 3:30 p.m., a camper rolled over while traveling northbound just south of Belen. On board the vehicle were two adults, one teenager, one child and an infant.

The five passengers crawled out of the driver’s side windows to icy conditions. A number of motorists stopped to assist, which included calling 911 to report the accident, situating the passengers of the vehicle into a good samaritan’s car to await police and ambulance arrivals. Passersby also provided blankets and pillows, and did a cursory check to ascertain if any injury had occurred.

Caution Saves Lives

According to the Weather Service’s website, New Mexico and other areas across the Southwest U.S. are affected by a North American Monsoon System every summer. The “monsoon season” runs from approximately June 15th through Sept. 30th. As a result of the effects of monsoon, New Mexicans can face a variety of weather hazards that carry with them the potential risk of serious injury or death.

Thunderstorms are more frequent during this period, and there can be unusually hot weather as well.

The website also stated “even though New Mexico is a desert environment,” statistics indicate “significant weather events associated with the monsoon are responsible for property damage, injuries and fatalities across the state every single year.”

In 2010, monsoon related events were responsible for two fatalities. The agency also provided safety rules to help save lives or help prevent serious injury. Community governments and businesses are encouraged to review their existing emergency action preparedness plans, conduct drills, to familiarize staff and employees as to proper emergency response.

Some recommended activities include:

  • Monitoring current weather forecasts on TV or the Internet;
  • Listening to weather reports on the radio or a NOAA weather radio;
  • Subscribing to online lightning and severe weather notification services;
  • Scanning the skies 360 degrees around and overhead before leaving for a safe location.