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Disaster risk in New Mexico

This 2007 file photo from NMSU showed a tornado near White Sands Missile Range.

This 2007 file photo from NMSU showed a tornado near White Sands Missile Range.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Historical data show vast swaths of eastern New Mexico remain at a “very low risk” rating for the big three natural disasters — earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes — while most of the rest of the state is at medium to high risk in a new report from RealtyTrac.

Union County in the northeast and the counties of Chaves, DeBaca and Roosevelt towards the southeast part of the state get the best ratings in the Natural Hazards Housing Risk Report by the real estate sales and data provider. Nationwide, only 3 percent of total U.S. housing units were in very low risk counties.

Much of central and northern New Mexico, including the Albuquerque metro area, is rated at medium risk, while most of southern New Mexico is rated high risk. Almost half of all housing nationwide is in high-risk areas for earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes.

The report doesn’t cover wildfire risk, which is widely considered the main threat — natural or otherwise — to housing in New Mexico. It is based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report did not touch on the half dozen or so tornadoes reported in eastern New Mexico earlier this month.

“The risk factors calculated in the report are based on NOAA data between 2001 and 2013 so very recent tornados would not be included,” said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist in an email to the Journal.

“Even if it did take into account the recent tornados, that may not have swayed the risk rating dramatically because it would be in the context of a dozen years of data that includes every tornado that touched down during that time period,” he said.

The risk rating is not just based on the occurrence of the tornados but the NOAA’s Destruction Potential Index, or DPI, which accounts for number of occurrences, path of the tornado in square miles, and force of the tornado based on the Fujita Scale (F0 to F5), Blomquist said.

The report doesn’t detail which of the big three natural disaster are the biggest threats here.

Hurricanes aren’t a threat in New Mexico unless a University of Miami (Fla.) basketball team is visiting The Pit.

Tornadoes have been reported over the last 64 years in 30 of New Mexico’s 33 counties, according to the St. Johnsbury, Vt.-based Tornado Project. The southeast part of the state appears to get tornadoes more regularly than elsewhere.

Earthquakes are likely the chief risk statewide among the big three natural disasters. Most of the state’s seismic activity follows the Rio Grande Valley. The biggest earthquake in New Mexico occurred Nov. 15, 1906, in Socorro and it wasn’t very destructive, according to the USGS website.

“Four rebuilt chimneys were shaken off the Socorro County Courthouse, and two others were cracked severely,” the website says. “Plaster fell at the courthouse, and a cornice on the northwest corner of the two-story adobe Masonic Temple was thrown onto its first floor. Several bricks fell from the front gable on one house.”

 

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