Freak Wind Incident in Rio Rancho, New Mexico

March 23, 2013

The Rio Grande Valley, including the City of Rio Rancho, was hit with freak winds yesterday afternoon and can anticipate more today with possible 60 mph winds predicted by the NOAA. We had our own “freak wind” incident occur in our backyard around 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon, March 23, 2013, while I was running errands in the neighborhood. I was inside of a local store and did not realize how severe the winds were at that time.

I walked my dogs around 3 p.m. and noticed there were numerous black clouds approaching, as well as Virga–thunderstorms with rain that dissipated before reaching the ground. I photographed the clouds–it appeared as if there were three roll clouds coming toward us. I had my hands full of dog leashes at the time so the photographs are not the best, but they are posted below:

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman






Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I left to run errands at 3:30 and returned at five. I left my truck and walked to the passenger side to fetch the groceries, and that’s when I noticed six or seven pieces of roof tile on our front yard. We just had our roof replaced, so I was very upset, but when I picked them up I realized they were not from our roof, and didn’t appear to be from the roofs of any neighbors, either.

I carried the groceries inside and found all four dogs waiting at the door. That’s when I noticed I had left the back door open. I walked over to close it and saw one of the bird dishes on the ground, shattered. When I picked it up, I noticed quite a few plant pots knocked on their sides, so I stood them back up, still not realizing something significant had happened while I was gone.

The dogs and I walked to the far side of the yard to close the playhouse door, which was slamming in the wind. I bent down to pick something up from the sand, and when I raised my head I realized I was looking at the intersection down the street. For a moment, I felt as if I was in a Twilight Zone episode–it took that long to realize the brick wall was missing.

In New Mexico, most houses have brick walls for fencing, heavily reinforced with rebar and lots of cement. Half of our back wall was in the arroyo behind our house. I didn’t know what to think–I still hadn’t pieced to together the wind incident–so I called the police. The sheriff who responded said he had not seen that much damage in his 23 years of service and was reporting it as vandalism, but I began to question this for a few reasons. First, I knew how sturdy that wall was before it fell. My husband had also recently reinforced the wall then added bamboo fencing behind it to raise the height so the dogs would not try to jump over the wall. When I looked into the arroyo, I could only see one piece of fencing–two six-foot pieces of bamboo fencing were missing. I suspect we will locate them somewhere in the neighborhood today, most likely in the backyard of the house on the opposite side of the arroyo. They are lightweight and could easily have been picked up by the wind.

I could only locate one piece of the three missing bamboo fences in the arroyo.

I also believe the wall was hit with a powerful force because the cement slope leading away from our yard had perfect markings from where the bricks smacked into the cement, so a large portion of the wall fell over in one piece. The police ruled out the dogs–no dog prints near the wall, and if they had pushed it over they would have fallen with the bricks, injured themselves and ran away. They don’t think the dogs are strong enough anyway. Thank goodness the dogs were not outside as they would likely have been seriously injured by the wind, as well, and flying debris, such as the roof tiles I found in front of the house. I found additional roof tiles in the arroyo.

I tried to contact our nearest neighbor. Their screen doors were shut, but their double front doors were both wide open and all of their wind chimes were on the ground. Our next door neighbors told us they were in church around 4 p.m. when “freak winds” started circling the church. Our neighbor said that in all his years in New Mexico–28 years–he had never heard such fierce winds. I then called our real estate agent who told me she experienced the same thing at her office in town–loud, fierce winds around 4 p.m.

I reported the incident to the NOAA. They said they were tracking strange winds in the area, but their equipment would not be able to show something like a gustnado or other freak wind event. I was told they were tracking a thunderstorm with virga in the area at that time–virga is rain that dissipates before it hits the ground. The man I spoke to at the NOAA said he was not surprised. He was sorry that we had so much damage, but not surprised.

Police officers continued to drive by throughout the night just to look at the damage. It is undoubtedly a strange site. I will be forever grateful that my dogs were not in the yard–I am guessing they did not hear the wall collapse because the wind was so loud, and most likely did not go outside because of the wind, and these decisions saved their lives. The wall can be replaced.


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