Spring is still officially a couple weeks away, but that didn’t stop those infamous New Mexico winds from hammering Valencia County last Sunday.
The National Weather Service issued a high wind advisory for the early afternoon of Feb. 26, and Valencia County saw sustained wind speeds of more than 45 mph and gusts of more than 60 mph at times.
According to PNM’s Twitter account, more than 9,000 Valencia County customers lost power Sunday due to the extremely high winds.
It was a terrible day in terms of the weather, said Valencia County Fire Chief Matt Propp of Sunday, but emergency crews were at the top of their game.
“Our crews did an outstanding job,” Propp said.
With hundreds of calls coming into the Valencia Regional Emergency Communications Center, and about 80 calls pending for VCFD alone, Propp said he called back all the career staff not on duty and asked the county fire districts to rally their members.
“We had quite a few crews come in and, as command staff, we were going out to the downed power line calls, trying to keep units available for medical and fire (calls),” the county chief said. “I think we managed it quite well. The crews did a great job getting on scene, determining if it was a hazard and clearing for the next scene.”
Most of the incidents were for downed power lines and trees, the chief said, although the department did respond to one structure fire that day. No one was injured and a cause has yet to be determined.
Propp said there was good, cross-agency cooperation throughout Valencia County as county and municipal crews assisted each other to make sure calls were answered.
“We did a good job managing our resources. The big key was to make sure there was no delay in serious calls,” he said.
As the season changes, high wind days are going to occur more often, the chief said, so it’s important residents mitigate as many hazards as they can ahead of time.
For instance, any items that can be picked up and blown around by the wind — even large items like carports, storage sheds and outdoor trampolines — need to be put away or securely tied down.
“If you have power lines along your back fence, for instance, and tall weeds, you need to clear that area out,” the chief said. “That way if a line does come down, you’ll just have an arcing line instead of a fire in the back yard.”
He also advised those with critical medical equipment that need electricity, such as oxygen concentrators, to have portable units on hand or a plan to relocate during an outage.
Propp reminds residents the county fire department makes daily posts to its Facebook page, indicating whether open burning is allowed or not.
In the village of Los Lunas and city of Belen, emergency crews were answering similar calls for toppled trees and power lines on the ground.
“There was a lot of property damage but fortunately I’m not aware of any injuries, so that’s a positive thing,” said Los Lunas Fire Chief John Gabaldon.
Charles Cox, Belen fire chief, said the department was called out mostly for downed power lines and some power poles. Crews were dispatched to a small brush fire on Edmundo Road, Cox said. The cause of that fire isn’t known, but it appears accidental and not due to power lines being down.
“There were no injuries and no major property damage that we know of,” Cox said.
Belen Police Chief James Harris said a semi truck was overturned by a large gust of wind on Interstate 25 north of Belen, which resulted in the interstate being shut down until it could be moved into the median.
“There was another rollover south of Belen, also on the interstate, but state police and the (Valencia County) sheriff’s office took care of that one,” Harris said. “Outside of that, there was a lot of debris blowing around and we spent a lot of time chasing alarm calls.”
Belen City Manager Rosanne Peralta said there was damage to trees at Eagle and Anna Becker parks, and the scoreboard at Vivian Field was “tipped over a bit.”
Gabaldon said not only is it important to secure items that might be blown into houses or power lines, but to look up and consider the possible danger of trees and limbs.
“If you look up and think, ‘That limb might fall’ it’s probably time to get a professional to come out,” he said. “It’s easy to say it’s just property damage, but for most of us, that’s how we make a livelihood. If something falls on our car, insurance is never fast enough so think about mitigating things before.”
Before a high wind event:
- Trim tree branches away from your house and power lines.
- Secure loose gutters and shutters.
- Identify an interior room of your house, such as a basement or interior bathroom, that you can take shelter in during high wind warnings.
- If you live in a mobile home, identify a sturdy building you can go to if the National Weather Service issues a high wind or severe thunderstorm warning.
- Charge batteries of all essential items such as cell phones and booster packs, weather radios and power tools such as a reciprocating saw, which you might need to clear debris.
- Update your emergency kit and be sure to include enough food and water to last for three days for each person in your home.
- Make a list of items outside your home you will need to tie down or put away so that they don’t blow away or fly through a window. When NWS issues a high wind or severe thunderstorm watch, immediately secure these items to avoid damage or injury once the wind starts picking up.
(Source: National Weather Service)
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.