Thunderstorm sweeps through San Juan County, dropping hail, flooding rivers

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

By Thursday evening, after much of the storm had passed, weather stations southwest of Bloomfield and west of Farmington recorded about a half inch of rain. But meteorologists say more thunder and rain will follow in the storm's wake this weekend, and the weather service has issued a high-river warning through Saturday.

“It was crazy,” five-year-old Marquel Peace said. “I didn't like it.”

Marquel stood on Crestwood Drive in Farmington uphill of where brown waves of water had washed over the road about an hour before. She was with her two-year-old sister, Kaitlynn Peace, and their mother, DeeAnn Peace.

“We were just coming home from lunch, and it was like a gushing river,” DeeAnn Peace said. “You could see waves and everything.”

Water streaming from arroyos washed over many other streets in Farmington and around San Juan County, forcing the Peaces and other residents to find new ways home. Authorities closed the South Miller Street bridge in the evening after an uprooted tree floating down the Animas River snagged low power lines and pulled them into the water.

Farmington Deputy Fire Chief David Burke said the localized flooding that hit the city dissipated quickly. There were no reports of floodwater damaging private property as of Thursday afternoon, he said.

San Juan County Public Works Administrator Dave Keck described the flooding elsewhere in the county as widespread but minor. “Nothing major,” he said.

On the Navajo Nation, officials from the Shiprock and Upper Fruitland chapters had not received any reports of flooding by 2 p.m. Thursday. Christina Silentman, the records clerk at the Shiprock Chapter house, said chapter residents had not reported any cases of flooding either but she noticed the San Juan River was rising.

Charley P. Joe, a member of the Shiprock Chapter ALERT, which stands for authorized local emergency response team, echoed the sentiment. He added that the storm moved through the chapter but no one had notified the group about damages.

Alvis Kee, chapter manager at Upper Fruitland Chapter, said the rain was a welcome relief and the chapter had not received any calls. Scattered storms also affected San Juan County sports. This week, four Connie Mack City League games were canceled. All of them involved Naa'taanii.

The team's doubleheader against the Durango Demons and 4-Corners Braves was canceled Wednesday, and their two games Thursday against Halo have also been called off.

Naa'taanii Coach Dineh Benally said he is working on making up the games on Saturday and Thursday, but nothing had been rescheduled as of Thursday afternoon.

Brian Guyer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque, said the eastern Pacific Ocean is creating a damp weather pattern — known as El Niño — but it is uncommonly damp this year because the ocean's surface is unusually warm.

He said it's a natural cycle in the Pacific Ocean's temperatures, and sometimes the cycles are strong. This cycle so far appears to be a strong warm cycle, meaning more precipitation than usual is likely this summer, he said.

Last year, almost the entire state was in drought, according to National Weather Service data. From late December 2014 to late July 2014, more than 90 percent of the state was in drought, and from mid-April 2014 to July 2014, almost 80 to 87 percent of the state was in severe drought, according to the data.

As of June 9, only 11.6 percent of the state was in severe drought, but much of that was in San Juan County.

This year, local weather stations have recorded almost twice the normal rainfall. In May, the weather station at the Farmington Airport recorded nearly two-and-a-half times more rain than is normal for the month.

“We're kind of going from one extreme to another,” Guyer said.

Reporters Noel Lyn Smith and Jake Newby contributed to this story.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.