CIBOLA COUNTY – The El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area were prime examples of what can happen during the seasonal monsoons.
But this past weekend’s storms were countywide, according to officials.
“The entire county was hard hit last weekend,” recalled Cibola County Emergency Manager Tony Boyd yesterday morning.
“There were scattered power outages from Cubero to Bluewater Village. Golf-ball-sized hail was reported near the Continental Divide on Highway 53 south of Grants and quarter-inch-size hail hit in Fence Lake and in San Rafael on Saturday.”
He acknowledged that two funnel-shaped clouds had been spotted within the county by the National Weather Service Albuquerque office.
On the county’s east side the Pueblo of Laguna received considerable damage from the torrential rains. Laguna Governor Richard Luarkie said, “There was significant damage here. For now we are handling the situation with internal resources.”
The Grants/Milan Municipal Airport recorded .42 inches of rain between 8 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday, according to Manager Wes Hobbs.
National Park Service (NPS) staff recorded 2.04 inches of precipitation between Saturday morning and Sunday noon at the Monument’s visitor center, located on Highway 53. The Center is on the east side of the Continental Divide, south of Grants. The facility has recorded 4.40 inches to date for August, according to staff.
El Morro National Monument, on the west side of the Continental Divide, received .14 inches of rain from the same storm system.
“It was a very odd band of storms,” recalled an El Morro staff member.
The El Morro facility has recorded .90 inches of rain for the first 11 days of this month.
“Our (NPS) law enforcement staff were out during the storm and took pictures that showed floodwaters covering all but the top strand of a three-wire barbwire fence on the east side of the El Malpais Monument near Highway 117,” according to one NPS staff member.
“I’m guessing this was at least a 25-year flood,” commented Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Ranger Paul Yoder on Aug. 11.
“There were almost 40 vehicles stranded here at the BLM Ranger Station on Highway 117,” said Yoder. “Two of those who waited out the storm live in Albuquerque and work with the National Weather Service. They were exploring the NCA on their vacation. They pointed to some cloud formations and identified one as ‘tornadic.’”
“There was more than three feet of water rushing across 117,” reported state DOT District Six staff. “We closed sections of the highway and brought in two large road graders to clear the roadway. We re-opened that stretch, near mile marker 47, around 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening.”
“People who were headed south on 117 just turned around and went back to Interstate 40 when they saw the flooding,” explained Yoder. “But people coming from Quemado pretty much waited it out until the road was re-opened.”
“We tried to get Fence Lake, northwest of Quemado,” recalled one county resident who was traveling on Saturday afternoon. “But the road was closed because of flooding. We had to take Highway 60 to Socorro, then went north on Interstate 25 to Albuquerque, and took I-40 to get back home to Grants.”
Yoder pointed out that drivers should stay on paved roadways for the next few days because of the potential for getting stuck in the wet soil, which is well known for its high clay content.
The BLM Ranger Station volunteer reported numerous inquiries on Aug. 11 from people who wanted to explore County Road 42, the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway. That unpaved road through the West Malpais Wilderness connects Highway 117 on the east side of the El Malpais Monument with Highway 53 on the west side.
“Driving the dirt roads now would create ruts that would make these roadbeds impassable for the next several months,” Yoder pointed out. “We are only able to grade these roads about once a year.”