Northeastern NM thunderstorms expected to turn into dry, critical fire weather

Utility explains power outages that storms and tornadoes caused

By: - June 15, 2023 4:30 am

The National Weather Service expects that stormy weather that's been plaguing northeastern New Mexico the past few weeks will turn into dry winds that could fuel fires. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)

After thunderstorms tore through northeastern New Mexico for weeks, the National Weather Service anticipates a complete change of pace as dry and windy weather conditions are forecasted to start up on Thursday, and could fuel large fires.

For the past month, areas of New Mexico bordering Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas have been experiencing intense rains, hail and tornadoes, leading to widespread damage local officials are trying to assess. 

Quay County and the city of Tucumcari are seeking state assistance to recover from the disasters. Officials may even try to attain a federal disaster declaration if the areas sustained enough damage, according to the Quay Sun.

Annette Mokry is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. She told Source NM this severe weather is forecast to break in the coming days.

She said there’s potential for a moisture front moving to northern New Mexico by Saturday but that’s not currently reflected in the forecast.

“We might be more or less done with the severe weather that we’ve seen for the last several weeks,” Mokry said.

Coming in place of that, she said, will be critical fire conditions fueled by dry and windy weather. She said those conditions will be present Thursday and Friday, and could carry into next week too.

Though a different type of risk, the sun could help relieve communities from the moist Texas air that Mokry said has been causing the thunderstorms.

Brooke Trammell, regional vice president of Southwestern Public Service Company, agrees. She told the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Wednesday about repeated power outages and electricity issues northeastern New Mexico has been experiencing with all of these storms.

“Our communities are very resilient communities. We are not strangers to extreme weather,” she said. “But we would appreciate a couple of sunny days and some time for this rain to dry up.”

Trammell said a storm on May 24 in Tucumcari was particularly powerful. It left over 16,000 residents without power, she said. Her colleague Brad Baldridge added that some people didn’t get power back for 18 hours.

About a week later in early June, Trammell said, her team believes a tornado swept futher south through Hobbs and damaged a cooling tower. However, the National Weather Service hasn’t confirmed the tornado event. The tower is still offline, Trammell said, but nobody experienced any outages as a result.

Baldridge said the severe weather hasn’t produced enough damage that the utility needs to find help from another source. Trammell said dozens of employees have been sent around the state to repair generation facilities, as well as energy transmission and distribution systems.

“We could use a little bit of a pause, but we’ll continue to keep watching the weather,” she said.

As the dry, windy weather comes through the northeast part of the state in coming days, there are a few wildfires burning in other parts of the state, the largest being the Pass Fire that’s consumed over 50,000 acres in the Gila National Forest and is only 13% contained.

No wildfires or prescribed burns have started up in northeastern New Mexico, as of Wednesday.

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.