Weather is a factor in emergency planning

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The Socorro County Local Emergency Planning Committee met Thursday morning and talked about the weather.

The county’s LEPC meets at 10 a.m. the third Thursday of each month at the county annex building, 198 Neel Ave., and meetings are open to the public.

Kerry Jones, with the National Weather Service, presented a special weather brief to local emergency planners. The meeting was well attended by representatives from Socorro County, the county’s emergency management office, New Mexico State Police, the Socorro County Sheriff’s Department, Socorro Search and Rescue, PHI Air Medical, Socorro schools and more.

Jones said NWS staff get together with the Southwest Coordination Center yearly to come up with “a best guess” at how the fire season will play out. Jones said this time of year they start looking at fire potential in terms of a broad scale by examining five elements: drought, fine fuels condition, seasonal temperature and precipitation, spring and summer weather conditions, and monsoon.

Jones noted drought is a major factor in determining fire danger, but some effects of drought moderate the danger. Drought inhibits the production of fine fuels, which are grasses and weeds that proliferate during rainy times and then dry out later.

Jones said the wet winter of 2009 produced a lot of fine fuels, but over the past two years, many areas of New Mexico have not seen a lot of new fine fuels production because of drought. He said fine fuels are below average now in the eastern plains and rangelands, but NWS needs to know about other areas. He encouraged meeting attendees to report fine fuels conditions in their respective areas.

Jones talked about compaction, or the smashing down of fine fuels by snowfall. Compaction makes fine fuels less likely to catch fire. However, there has been very little snow this year, so whatever fine fuels are out there have had very little compaction.

Jones noted for this year, weather patterns are similar to 1971 but fuel conditions are “anything but.” Weather patterns favor a drier than average spring with a tendency for coolness, which could mean a moister monsoon season later — but not necessarily. He noted predicting how the monsoons will play out is “tricky.”

Jones said weather patterns with deep troughs over the West Coast can bring surprise precipitation to New Mexico. He noted the system that moved through the area Wednesday brought nearly a half-inch of unexpected rain to El Paso.

In other discussion at the LEPC meeting:

  • Anton Salome, who works for Socorro schools, said New Mexico State Police will conduct an active shooter training March 6 at Socorro High School for school staff. NMSP District 11 Capt. Adrian Armijo said it is a two-hour presentation NMSP is doing all around the state, and they will try to open it to the public by doing some trainings at large businesses and hospitals in addition to schools. The training addresses what people can do to protect themselves and others in the event an active shooter comes to their workplace or school.
  • County manager Delilah Walsh said the county will close on its grant for the Bosquecito project next week, so the county will soon start construction on flood mitigation, a new road and water crossings.
  • Jerry Wheeler, chief deputy fire marshal, said there will be a functional exercise this year. He said it will be different than the last exercise, which was strictly a tabletop exercise; the functional exercise will involve moving resources and activity in the field, as well as in the emergency operations center. He said the exercise is tentatively planned for sometime in June.
  • Wheeler also mentioned a G-191 course was coming up March 5, and 19 seats are still available in the class for local emergency responders. He said it was a challenge to get the class here because it is in high demand all over the state. County fire marshal Fred Hollis added it is a good one-day class that covers the incident command system interface with the emergency operations center.
  • Deputy Ed Sweeney mentioned the sheriff’s department and NMSP responded to five vehicle crashes due to icy conditions on Interstate 25 Thursday morning.