Monday, July 29, 2013

The Albuquerque Hurricane

On the radio this morning, they were comparing the Friday storm in Albuquerque to a hurricane, though the high winds were not sustained long enough for there to be any "official" determination that it actually was a hurricane.

Wait. How far is Albuquerque from the ocean? Let's see. Albuquerque to Santa Monica Beach: 806 miles via (what's left of) Route 66. Albuquerque to (say) Corpus Christi: 890 miles. In other words, Albuquerque is nowhere near an ocean, no matter how you figure distances.

A hurricane in the middle of the continent, along the Rio Grande Rift Valley? Has anybody heard of such a thing before?

No. Actually not. No one has heard of such a thing, and the weather service was both surprised and perplexed. They still haven't figured out exactly what happened, though the news video below attempts to describe it.

A number of local storms coalesced over the Rio Grande and proceeded along the river valley at a brisk but rather stately pace, dumping huge amounts of rainfall. The winds blew at near-hurricane speeds at least briefly.

Damage was much more extensive than initially reported or believed. Thousands of people were caught out in the open at concerts at the Biopark Zoo and at the Isleta Casino Amphitheatre and at the baseball game about to begin at the Isotopes Park. The video at the top of this post is of a few seconds of the storm at the Biopark Zoo.

There was extensive flooding throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Corrales was particularly hard hit when rivers of mud cascaded through the village leaving huge mounds of sand and mud in people's yards, on village streets, and in practically every exposed corner of an ordinarily placid and very expensive semi-rural enclave in the Albuquerque metro area.

Out here in the Estancia Valley, the rains came after the storm in Albuquerque had passed down the Rio Grande Valley into Los Lunas and Belen and points south. The rain was hard and steady here, but there was high wind only at the outset of the storm; later on, there was a steady wind from the north, maybe 25-30 miles an hour. The rains lasted for hours here, though the storm was over in a little more than an hour in Albuquerque.

There have been a number of "microburst" events in Albuquerque and around the area during this monsoon season. There has been a lot of damage because of them -- downed trees and power lines mostly -- but Friday's storm was orders of magnitude worse. No one had ever seen anything like it.

What I noticed while watching the storm coverage on the teevee as it happened was that the worst of the storm was staying quite closely along the Rio Grande. I've never seen a storm follow a river valley so closely, though when it got closer to Socorro it spread out -- the Rio Grande Rift Valley spreads out in the vicinity of Socorro and points south.

Many people are ambivalent about this weather. First, there is a welcoming of the rain, for it is desperately needed, even in the giant amounts that have been falling lately. Better to have it than not. The storm damage is no fun, of course, but even that is tolerable in reasonable amounts. People are used to cleaning up and making repairs after storms.

What's odd is that these storms (and there have been many more than the one on Friday) are coming very early in the monsoon season and some of them have been distinctively anomalous, either in their strength or in their direction or in their fury. Because there have been so many forest fires over the past few years, ruining the mountain watershed, there has been extensive and terrible flash flood damage. Lots of mud in the extra-heavy runoff. The situation in Corrales was somewhat different but the result was nearly as bad.

This is still July. There are two more months of wet weather to come -- assuming it comes. Like much of the rest of the country and the globe, we're experiencing Climate Change in real time. Can't say it's all bad, but it isn't something to be laughed at or dismissed either.

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