Year in review: Odd weather top story in 2014

By Robin Fornoff

Managing editor

Life imitating art tumbled into Clovis behind gale-force winds, leaving many trapped in their homes and emergency crews and volunteers scrambling to clean up the mess.

The January 2014 attack of the giant tumbleweeds wasn’t quite on a scale with the low-budget thriller “Killer Tumbleweeds,” filmed locally four years earlier by Bovina natives Ben and Butch McCain. No one died or was injured in the real attack.

The surreal aftermath, however — one-story homes buried under giant tumbleweeds — kicked off a year of astounding and odd weather developments.
Tumbleweeds, flash flooding, the occasional tornado and, now, bitter cold, make weather the top story of 2014, as determined by CNJ editors.

Jo Priest, 72, awoke Jan. 27, a Monday morning after the overnight blow and could barely get our of her apartment for the tumbleweeds.

“I’ve lived here 12 years, and I’ve seen it like this maybe once,” Priest said as she pushed a broom to clear the weeds from her porch. A neighbor at the Cheyenne Trails Apartments,

Art Thompson, noted “They brought in a … tractor to clear the parking lot. I couldn’t even walk onto the porch.”

File photo City maintenance workers spent more than a week collecting the tumbleweeds,  crushing them and hauling them to the landfill.

File photo
City maintenance workers spent more than a week collecting the tumbleweeds, crushing them and hauling them to the landfill.

The city and Curry County responded to the tumbleweed tsunami with an armada of equipment; city workers and airmen dispatched from Cannon Air Force Base to clean up the mess.

Crews concentrated on the hardest hit area — south of Llano Estacado on Wicks, Lore and Red Cloud streets. Overnight winds of 60 mph swept the weeds in from vacant fields just north of Llano. The errant carcasses of straggler weeds mowed down by traffic as they tumbled toward their target dotted Llano for days.

Outside the city, Curry County crews concentrated on the Melrose area, where Roads Superintendent Steve Reed said tumbleweeds blocked roads and trapped at least one person in their home.

Experts blamed the glut of weeds, also know as Russian thistle, on spring rains that nurtured the thirsty monsters lying in wait from the drought. Add 50-to-60 mph wind gusts and it was a recipe for disaster.

Disposing of the pesky plants presented another thorny problem. Volunteers and homeowners pushed them into the streets where city crews on heavy equipment smashed the dried skeletons into piles of dust and tiny sticks. The mess was scooped up and hauled away to the city landfill.

The county eventually hired a private concern that bailed tumbleweeds and sold them as feed for cattle.

It would be weeks before the city could clear the weeds. In the interim, homeowners heeded Thompson’s wise words: “If you see one of them monsters, kill it.”

It was a stormy year:

• In June, two tornadoes touched down briefly near Pleasant Hill long enough north of Clovis to damage one farmer’s home during several days of heavy rains and ominous skies.
Dean Campbell, 64, said the storm hit sometime after 8 p.m. He said he and his family went to the center hallway of the home as it was being pelted by softball-size hail. Their farm is at N.M. 209 (north Prince Street) and Curry Road 22, north of Ned Houk Park.

Campbell said the noise from the hail was deafening. Glass in windows on the west side of the home began shattering and Campbell said they heard a loud boom as the wind peeled the roof from the west side of the home, scattering it several hundred yards to the south and east. Flying debris killed at least two calves.

• In July, 4.5 inches of overnight rain turned city streets into rivers in central and south Clovis.

Several motorists stranded by the flood had to be rescued by police. Homes and businesses were damaged. Most of Greene Acres Park was submerged for days from the runoff, forcing a delay in the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, “Smoke on the Water.”

Even after several years of drought, the thirsty soil wasn’t able to handle all the rain. Business owner Jay Fisher said he had never seen so much fall so fast. Homeowner Maria Barela fretted as the water continued rising almost even with her front door.

“I was stressed,” Barela said. “The water was about to come into my home and nobody would do anything about it. “

In fact, police and fire crews were busy rescuing those already under water. City crews eventually arrived at the Barela house with sandbags in time to prevent a breech.

“I like the moisture,” Barela said, “but not this time.”

• And we close the year with bitter cold and threats of more to come. Overnight temperatures Tuesday plummeted to 5 degrees with a wind-chill that made it feel like 14 below zero.
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for today, predicting 1 to 2 inches of snow and freezing rain through the New Year holiday.