Powerful storm transformed ‘relatively flat’ New Mexico village into ‘large lake,’ forecasters say


WILLARD, N.M. (AP) — A powerful storm battered a small New Mexico village for several hours Wednesday, causing severe flash flooding that trapped dozens of vehicles in rushing flood waters.

The storm unleashed a thick curtain of rain and lime-sized hail over the 200-person village of Willard outside of Albuquerque, as fire crews farther south in the mountain village of Ruidoso were still battling a pair of deadly wildfires.

Forecasters say the severe weather is emblematic of this time of year in New Mexico when the state’s wildfire and monsoon seasons overlap.

“We went from catastrophic wildfires one day to catastrophic flooding the next,” Brian Guyer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque, said.

Within minutes after commercial truck driver Mike Bischoff received an emergency alert that a storm was on the way, he was already stuck in it. The 54-year-old was driving his semi-truck on Highway 42 when the hail started to pour down and the flash floods surrounded him and the other drivers on the road.

Stuck in the storm, Bischoff said the hail poured down and a funnel cloud appeared in the sky.

“My semi weighs 80,000 pounds, and it was rocking,” Bischoff said.

The storm draped itself over Willard for three straight hours, according to the National Weather Service, dropping between 6 and 8 inches of rain to transform “the relatively flat” village into what Guyer described as “a large lake.” Some parts of New Mexico, Guyer said, don’t see that much rainfall in an entire year.

About a three-hour drive south of Willard on Thursday, fire crews were bracing for flooding and lightning as they continued to battle the fires that have killed at least two people and have consumed more than 31 square miles (80 square kilometers).

Residents of Ruidoso had fled the larger of the two fires with little notice as it swept into neighborhoods on Tuesday.

Authorities say a badly burned 60-year-old man who died was found by the side of the road near the popular Swiss Chalet Inn in Ruidoso. On Wednesday, officers discovered the skeletal remains of an unidentified second person in the driver seat of a burned vehicle.

Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot in recent months. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso. Evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional hospital and the Ruidoso Downs horse track.

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