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On May 31, 1991 at 8:39 PM MDT a then rated (F-2 Tornado touched down 2.1 miles southeast of the Carlsbad Airport (as the crow flies) just southwest of the end of Wagonwheel Rd. A day and time that many local residents will never forget. Newspaper articles at the time reported conflicting reports (understandably so) concerning the damage, injuries, and the time of the tornado. To many residents this was a shock...not something that we are used to seeing or dealing with.
The tornado touched down right at dusk. Cass Hernandez who was the Carlsbad Airport Security Guard at the time observed the tornado 2 miles southeast of the Airport as power flashes occurred from the tornado destroying power lines and transformers. It was eerie looking contrasted with the darkness and power flashes but there was no mistaking what was happening.
The Tornado's path is circled in red on the map above and is a rough estimate.
My Account Of The Tornado That I Submitted To The "American Weather Observer."
Local Newspaper Accounts Of The Tornado.
Carlsbad Current Argus - June 2, 1991.
El Paso Times - June 2, 1991.
Carlsbad Current Argus - June 3, 1991.
Note that the worst damage from the tornado occurred on the less populated north side of Wagonwheel Rd. We found debris from the tornado scattered out in a circular path up to three miles from Wagonwheel Rd. Including a Bible and insulation from homes that we picked up off Runway 03/21 at the Carlsbad Airport.
I accompanied Mr. Don Bateman the OIC of the Roswell, New Mexico National Weather Service Office at the time during his damage survey the morning after the tornado. I took all of the photos posted on this blog, made copies of them and gave them to Don who then submitted them to the Albuquerque National Weather Service Office.
Don and I measured the width and length of the tornado which was exactly 285 yards wide and a mile long. The tornado lifted shortly after it destroyed a garage full of vehicles at the corner of Harkness and Old Cavern Highway. The time that the tornado was on the ground was only minutes according to witnesses.
We counted thirteen mobile homes that were completely destroyed and fifty seven other homes, barns, sheds, and out buildings that were damaged by the tornado. I called in one of my weather observers to come work for me at the Carlsbad Airport Flight Service Station Weather Office and arrived on scene that night at 10:00 PM MDT. I was told that there were twenty one people injured, ten of which were transported to the Carlsbad Medical Center. Thankfully nobody died in this event.
Artesia Daily Press - June 2, 1991.
Note the home in the background escaped serious damage.
This double wide mobile home was demolished yet the power poles and lines in the back of it survived the tornado's wrath. Note how the tornado bent the steel frame of the home.
Looking north on Old Cavern Highway. Note that the power poles on the left had already been replaced that next morning when I shot this photo. Notice the refrigerator (I think that's what it was anyway) next to the mailbox on the right hand side and the debris in the power lines.
Again looking down down Old Cavern Highway.
This photo has always fascinated me. Notice the small tree in front of what is left of a mobile home. A few leaves were strippped off but its mostly intact. As were the homes in the background. Tornadoes do weird things.
South side of Wagonwheel Rd. This shed took a direct hit while minimal damage occurred to the mobile home both south and north of it.
What looks to be metal roofing is wrapped around a metal pole. Note the tree and debris in the background contrasted with the home not damaged.
Looking southwest on Wagonwheel Rd. What is left of a mobile home was blown south across the street and into this yard. Only the air conditioner suffered damage on the mobile home in the background, and these trees and fencing too were left standing.
Looking northwest from the southern end of Wagonwheel Rd near where the tornado first touched down to the left of the photo.
A mobile home once stood here. Gone with the wind/tornado.
Please note that the edits on some of my photos were done years later when I used them on previous blogs. I shot all of these photos with my Cannon AE-1 35 MM Camera. Mobile homes and vehicles are the worst places you can be during a tornado.
This mobile home was completely destroyed - yet across the street minimal damage.
These folks were lucky if you can call it that. Minimal damage to their roof while other double wide mobile homes were destroyed nearby.
Can This Happen Again?
Yes and its not a matter of if it will happen but when. Are you ready...do you have a plan for you and your loved ones during severe weather? If not now is the time to get one. Tornadoes are not rare in New Mexico. On average about ten tornadoes a year touch down in the state with most of them occurring over the eastern one third of the state on the eastern plains. It has been estimated that on average six of these occur in southeastern New Mexico each year. Some years have none and then every so often we see a "swarm" of them like in 1991 when 31 touchdowns were recorded.
Roughly every ten years according to the Albuquerque National Weather Service Office and the Storm Prediction Center New Mexico experiences a strong tornado (EF2 or stronger). Shortly after sunset on March 23, 2007 an (EF-2) tornado cut a path of destruction through the southeastern side of Clovis. This tornado was on the ground for 8.02 miles and was 350 yards wide. It caused $16.5 million dollars in damages. Over five hundred homes were damaged, 33 people were injured, and two fatalities were noted. We are due folks.
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