‘Gustnados’ create stir

A gustnado was spotted shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday near the Curry and Roosevelt County line. A gustnado is a small, weak, short-lived tornado that occurs along the leading edge of a thunderstorm. Courtesy photo by Randy Holland.

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

At least three side-winding tornado-look-a-likes moved across the plains of eastern New Mexico on Wednesday night, prompting motorists to brake, photographers to grab their cameras and an array of residents to stare wide-eyed in amazement.

Their curiosity was aroused by what National Weather Service officials call a “gustnado,” which is weaker than a tornado but can be dangerous nonetheless, said Curry County Emergency Management Director Ken De Los Santos.

Roosevelt and Curry counties were under a gustnado advisory for about 35 minutes until 8 p.m. Wednesday night, De Los Santos said, but no major damage was reported.
Even so, residents were urged to stay indoors during the advisory, or at least use caution.

Dave Scheiby of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said gustnados are seen sporadically in New Mexico. He said the ones spotted Wednesday were spin-offs from the outflow boundary of a larger storm near the northeast corner of the state.

Initially the weather service issued a tornado warning for Curry and Roosevelt counties, which is why sirens went off in Clovis, officials said.

The issue was quickly downgraded to a gustnado advisory.
A gustnado is defined as “a gust front tornado. A small, weak, short-lived tornado that occurs along the leading edge of a thunderstorm, caused by rain-cooled air flowing out from the storm’s downdraft. A gustnado is often visible as a debris cloud or dust whirl,” according to a regional Web site for the National Weather Service.

Several Clovis residents said they saw what looked like a thin tornado funneling from the sky about 7 p.m. a few miles south of Clovis.

Dave Penry was driving from Portales to Clovis when he saw the first of three gustnados just north of the Curry-Roosevelt county line.

“I saw one of the most unusual funnels I’ve ever seen. It came all the way to the ground, it had a black outline, then on the inside it had a second spiral,” said Penry, who estimated he was about a mile from the gustnado. “That was the fastest moving thing I’ve ever seen in my life coming through there.”

About five minutes later Penry saw two more gustnados in the same area.

Penry said five or six travelers pulled over to the side of the road to view the funnels.

Despite the weather, local observers reported little precipitation. Cannon Air Force Base recorded no rain, Portales received 0.01 inches, and observers in Clovis reported between a trace and 0.3.