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The East Wind Event of 1 December 2011

On December 1, 2011, a powerful winter storm produced the strongest winds in 24 years in Albuquerque and damaging winds to many portions of New Mexico. Gusty east winds were measured at the Albuquerque Sunport for 31 consecutive hours, and the gusts exceeded 40 miles per hour for 20 consecutive hours. The peak gust recorded at the Sunport was 69 mph. Extensive damage and power outages were reported throughout the Rio Grande Valley and west to Grants including numerous reports of roof damage, downed power lines, evaporative coolers blown off roofs, tree limbs snapped and trees toppled over. In Grants, two commercial buildings, one home and two motels sustained roof damage from the high winds. And in the northeast corner of the state, a truck was rolled over on U.S. Route 64/87 between Capulin and Raton.  


Synoptic conditions were perfect for this damaging wind event, as shown in the figure to the right.  A closed upper level low (500 mb, top panel) was positioned over southern California while at the surface (1000 mb, bottom panel) a potent back door cold front raced through the eastern plains of New Mexico.  This front was particularly strong with very high pressure in the Great Plains and a surface low over Arizona, enhancing the east to west pressure gradient (black arrow) across all of New Mexico. The shaded areas in this graphic depict standardized anomalies, or locations where the atmosphere differs dramatically from climatology.

A similar but weaker pattern would result in gap winds into the central valleys.  However, in this case the cold air associated with the back door front was quite deep in vertical extent, and the east winds spilled over the tops of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains. The strong gradient added to the speed of the winds.

 weather maps for 1 december 2011
The photograph below was taken from the Elena Gallegos Open Space area during the afternoon of December 1, prior to the peak of the wind event.  Clouds form on the east slopes and peaks of the central mountains as the cold air is forced to higher elevations.  As the air descends the west slopes, warming and drying result in a sharp edge of the clouds.
photo of clouds capping Sandias


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