A storm system forecasters called historic blasted through New Mexico this week, spawning tornadoes, forcing a freight train to plunge from the bridge it was crossing, turning semis onto their sides, causing other vehicle crashes and knocking out power for hours in Las Vegas, N.M.
At least two tornadoes touched down in southeast New Mexico late Tuesday, one near Dexter and Hagerman, and the other near Loving. Tennis ball-sized hail was also reported as the storms passed through.
City of Roswell Public Information Officer Todd Wildermuth told the Journal five people were taken with minor injuries to hospitals after the Dexter-Hagerman tornado.
Six homes were severely damaged and 12 homes were partially damaged by the twister, said Dwight Koehn of the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.
No damage or injuries were reported from the Loving tornado.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter to help victims of the Dexter-Hagerman tornado at the Lindell Andrews Community Center in Hagerman.
Elsewhere around the state, furious winds were considered a factor in a train derailment of 22 cars Wednesday near Logan, along N.M. 469 near U.S. 54. No injuries were reported in the accident, State Police spokesman officer Ray Wilson said.
“There were no hazardous materials released during the crash,” he said.
State Police closed all northbound lanes on Interstate 25 from mile marker 389 to 481 north of Wagon Mound on Wednesday morning because of weather-related commercial vehicle crashes. Several vehicles overturned.
Wilson said State Police officers were “working multiple crashes, especially on I-25 north of Las Vegas, but all over the state, due to high winds and weather.”
The winds were also a factor in a major power failure in Las Vegas, N.M., affecting almost 6,000 people. PNM reported on Twitter that several poles were down on Las Vegas’ South Frontage Road. Officials were advising people to avoid the area. Crews were replacing downed poles, but there were still a few thousand customers without power as of Wednesday evening.
PNM spokesperson Meaghan Cavanaugh said the utility was dealing with power outages scattered throughout its coverage area, but couldn’t say how many customers lost power.
“Our crews are out working,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re trying to restore power as quickly as we can.”
In addition to the blackout, Koehn said structures suffered roof damage and trees were downed in the Las Vegas area.
He said wind gusts of 79 mph were recorded at Clines Corners and Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis Wednesday afternoon.
Winds of up to 75 mph also were recorded on White Sands Missile Range. The range closed Wednesday morning because of the high winds, with civilian employees sent home early.
The missile range forecast office was anticipating wind speeds to reach around 100 mph later in the day in San Augustin Pass.
High winds also forced Taos Ski Valley to close the upper mountain.
Heavy snowfall in the area also caused problems. The Taos News reported several cars were stuck on N.M. 150 to Taos Ski Valley on Wednesday morning as calls went out for help pulling them out. In addition, one vehicle slid off the road into the river, though no injuries were reported, according to central dispatch.
Up to 3 feet of snow is expected in the northern mountains through today.
No major damage was reported in the Albuquerque metro area, even though it remained under a high wind warning until late in the evening.
Air travel was affected at Albuquerque International Sunport because of problems caused by the storm system elsewhere. Stephanie Kitts, a spokesperson for the Sunport, said the airport was affected by the cancellation of what The Associated Press said was about 1,000 flights at the airport in Denver.
More than 25 states were affected by the storm on Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.
“This is a very epic cyclone,” said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “We’re looking at something that will go down in the history books.”
It could develop across the rest of the country into the worst storm of its type in 35 or 40 years, he said.
A wind gust of 92 mph was recorded in the mountains northwest of Denver. Many schools and government offices closed for the day.
The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950, Carbin said. It was caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies.
Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere.
“It’s like a vacuum cleaner, really,” Carbin said. And when that much air rushes higher into the atmosphere, it causes severe weather.
The storm could last until Friday, but Koehn said the system was expected to clear out of New Mexico by late Wednesday night.
“It should quiet down on Thursday,” Koehn said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.