Now it’s raining grasshoppers.
The National Weather Service doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but the pests have apparently become so abundant on the West Mesa that they’ve started showing up on National Weather Service radar. Jason Frazier, a meteorologist for the weather service in Albuquerque, said this year’s grasshopper plague is the most likely explanation for “weird radar echoes” that appeared Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We knew pretty quickly it wasn’t rain,” Frazier said Friday.
The images prompted weather service officials to test their West Mesa radar, but technicians found no evidence of faulty equipment, he said. Radar images posted on the agency’s website Thursday night showed several clusters in areas west of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, and largely north of Interstate 40.
Migrating birds, bats and other creatures sometimes show up on radar, but officials said they don’t recall ever having clouds of grasshoppers show up on their screens, said meteorologist Chuck Jones.
The insects hatched weeks ago and are now full grown, he said. “That’s why we’re seeing them now on the radar, because they’re larger.”
Jones lives in Northwest Albuquerque and often hikes on the West Mesa. “As soon as you walk toward the first volcano out there, there’s tens of thousands of them,” he said. “You can hardly take a step without being concerned about crushing them.”
Unusually large numbers of the insects have appeared across the Albuquerque metro area in recent weeks. Grasshoppers can defoliate trees, shrubs and garden plants, but are not vectors for disease and do not pose a danger to people, officials said.
A Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service official said weather conditions favorable for grasshoppers led to a population explosion this year. A period of heavy rainfall last fall created an ideal environment for grasshoppers to lay eggs, and a mild winter allowed most of those eggs to survive.
Cheryl Kent, an agricultural agent for the extension service, said grasshoppers can cause ugly holes in ornamental plants but are unlikely to kill trees or shrubs.
“They are very tough to kill,” Kent said. Even a broad-spectrum insecticide is unlikely to prevent damage to your plants, she said.
“If you can tolerate a little leaf damage on your plants, probably the most environmentally responsible thing to do is let nature take its course, or physically cover something you are really, really concerned about,” she said.