Tornado Awareness

In New Mexico, there are:

  1. Dust Devils- A dust devil is a rotating column of air and dust near the surface of the Earth. They are most common on sunny, dry, hot, and unstable days with little to no cumulus cloud cover.  Winds speeds vary but generally average about 45 miles an hour. 
  2. Landspouts- A landspout is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the surface of the Earth that ascends to a growing cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud. Dust Devils can become a landspout if they grow vertically and connect with a cumulus cloud base.  Landspout speeds vary from 40 miles an hour for the weakest up to 200 mph or greater for the most violent. The key difference between a dust devil and a landspout is that landspouts ascend to cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud.
  3. Tornadoes- A tornado is a violently rotation column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud, or in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. Tornado wind speeds vary from 40 miles an hour for the weakest up to 300 miles an hour or greater for the most violent.  The key difference between a tornado and a landspout is that tornadoes form in a cumulus cloud and descend to the surface of the Earth, whereas landspouts form at the surface of the Earth and ascend to a cumulus cloud.

Tornadoes are most common in eastern New Mexico in the spring, but they can occur anywhere. There have been tornado deaths in western areas of the state and near mountain communities. Here's some facts on tornadoes (and hail) in New Mexico.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma issues a TORNADO WATCH to give you advance notice that tornadoes are possible in your area. This gives you time to make preliminary plans for moving to a safe location if a tornado warning is issued.

A TORNADO WARNING is an urgent announcement that a tornado has been reported or is imminent and warns you to take cover immediately. The following are instructions on what to do when a tornado warning has been issued for your area or whenever a tornado threatens:


  • Act quickly; seconds save lives.
  • Go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom.
  • If possible, get under a sturdy table or workbench.
  • Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • Be sure to stay clear of any threat of flying glass.


  • ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY!! Most deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of those locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter.
  • Mobile homes provide no shelter in a tornado regardless of how well tied down, and should be abandoned for a storm shelter.
  • if you live in a mobile home, be sure you have a plan of safe action should the weather become threatening.
  • If no shelter is available, lie flat in a ditch or depression in the ground and use your hands to cover your head.


  • Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. See the left figure for an example of where to go in a school. Crouch down and cover your head as shown in the figure below.



  • Go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.


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