These are my stories as a volunteer member of the Sheriff's Search & Rescue team in Coconino County, Arizona. I'll share what it's like to go from a beginner with a lot to learn to an experienced and, hopefully, valuable member of the team, as well as the missions, trainings, and other activities along the way.
About Coconino County
About Coconino County
Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.
October 8, 2010
Not only had he said tornado, but, throughout the day, several more twisters would touch down in the Flagstaff area, one of which destroyed more than 30 homes and damaged about 100 others in Bellemont and toppled 28 freight train cars. Another twister originated in the Blue Ridge area, leaving a 15-mile swath of broken trees in its wake but miraculously missing nearby structures.
When all responding SAR members arrived at the building, we took off towards Bellemont, watching the dark clouds swirl overhead, scanning the sky near and far for any sign of funnel clouds forming. As we drove, we talked about where we could take cover if need be. One of my teammates pointed out a ditch and culvert, while another mentioned an overpass somewhere ahead that we could park beneath.
At one point, some of us stopped to do a road block, directing drivers to turn around in the median and go back to Flagstaff. Semi trucks had been turned over on I-40 and another tornado had been spotted, heading towards the highway and again the Bellemont neighborhood.
A DPS officer finally arrived to take over the road block, relieving us so we could continue on to the Command Center, at that time located in the fire station near the original tornado's path. The rain resumed full force as we passed Camper's World, where RVs had been mangled and tossed every which way in the parking area and sales yard. Debris had been scattered across the road and median.
We waited at the fire station for assignments, listening to radio traffic about more tornadoes forming as we watched the lightning, rain, wind, and hail from the dry side of the bay windows.
This is some of what we were hearing...
Coconino County Sheriff's radio traffic
Department of Public Safety radio traffic
Eventually, we were relocated to the NOAA building at Camp Navajo, considered a more secure building. Weather Service personnel were staring at their banks of colorful computer monitors and busily walking desk to desk, room to room, calm but clearly running on adrenaline. One man said, "This is what we all train for but hope never happens."
Eventually, SAR personnel were sent into the field to do welfare checks and damage assessments, with the exception of myself and one other team member, who were asked to stay behind to man radios, record the transmissions and activities on the computer, and do some mapping. The others headed out to get very wet while canvassing the Bellemont neighborhood.
At the end of the day, patches of blue sky began to emerge. The tornado warnings subsided and later the watch was lifted. The severe and unusual storm had left behind lots of damage and some reportedly minor injuries, but, thankfully, no serious physical trauma or loss of life.
The next day, SAR teams were dispatched to search Forest Service roads, to make sure no campers or hunters had been stranded or injured.
Per the National Weather Service on October 6,2010....
A STRONG PACIFIC LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM LOCATED ACROSS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMBINED WITH SUBSTANTIAL MOISTURE MOVING NORTH FROM MEXICO...LED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF WIDESPREAD SEVERE THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY ACROSS THE REGION WEDNESDAY. NUMEROUS REPORTS OF HAIL WERE RECEIVED...AS WELL AS FIVE CONFIRMED TORNADOES.
BLUE RIDGE...(153-212 AM)...FOREST SERVICE AND NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE EMPLOYEES VERIFIED A 10-15 MILE PATH WITH NUMEROUS TREES DOWN AND SEVERAL FOREST ROADS BLOCKED. DAMAGE INTENSITY VARIED CONSIDERABLY ALONG PATH, WHICH VARIED FROM 75 TO 400 YARDS WIDE.
BELLEMONT TORNADO #1...(507-535 AM)...CONSIDERABLE STRUCTURAL DAMAGE IN AND AROUND THE COMMUNITY OF BELLEMONT. AREAL AND GROUND SURVEYS VERIFIED A SEMI-CONTINUOUS TORNADO PATH FROM AT LEAST 9 MILES SOUTH OF BELLEMONT...EXTENDING NORTHWARD CROSSING HIGHWAY 180 NORTHWEST OF FLAGSTAFF. TOTAL PATH LENGTH OF AT LEAST 22 MILES. PRELIMINARY ESTIMATES OF DAMAGE INTENSITY IN THE COMMUNITY OF BELLEMONT PUT THIS TORNADO AT EF-1 ON THE ENHANCED FUJITA SCALE. MOST INTENSE DAMAGE (NOT YET RATED) WAS IN THE FOREST SOUTH AND JUST NORTH OF BELLEMONT.
BELLEMONT TORNADO #2...(558-640 AM)...THIS TORNADO CAUSED EXTENSIVE FOREST DAMAGE (PRIMARILY SOUTH OF BELLEMONT)...ALONG A CONTINUOUS TRACK WHICH EXTENDED FROM 15 MILES SOUTH OF BELLEMONT...EVENTUALLY CROSSING HIGHWAY 180 NORTHWEST OF FLAGSTAFF. 28 RAIL CARS DERAILED IN BELLEMONT...WITH ADDITIONAL STRUCTURAL AND AUTO DAMAGE. TOTAL PATH LENGTH OF AT LEAST 30 MILES. NO TORNADO INTENSITY HAS BEEN ESTIMATED YET.
MUNDS PARK...(1208-1220 PM)...THIS TORNADO WAS SIGHTED CROSSING INTERSTATE 17 MOVING NORTHBOUND...LATER OBSERVED 4 MILES SOUTH OF THE COUNTRY CLUB NEIGHBORHOOD ON THE EAST SIDE OF FLAGSTAFF. LITTLE SURFACE DAMAGE REPORTED AT THIS TIME.
AN ADDITIONAL TORNADO TRACK WAS DISCOVERED NORTH AND WEST OF FORT VALLEY NEAR THE FLAGSTAFF NORDIC CENTER. THIS TRACK WAS DISTINCTLY SEPARATE FROM THE TWO EARLIER BELLEMONT TORNADO TRACKS...HOWEVER APPEARED TO BE MUCH SHORTER IN LENGTH.
CORNVILLE..........................2.00 INCH DIAMETER
PARKS..............................1.75 INCH DIAMETER
TEEC NOS POS.......................1.75 INCH DIAMETER
RIMROCK............................1.25 INCH DIAMETER
KACHINA VILLAGE....................1.00 INCH DIAMETER
COTTONWOOD 1 MI SOUTH..............1.00 INCH DIAMETER
MUNDS PARK 5 MI NORTH..............1.00 INCH DIAMETER
CNN news report video
Article: Bellemont Becomes Tornado Alley
Photos of tornado aftermath
Update: 8 Tornadoes now confirmed. See more photos, maps and satellite and radar loops from the NOAA.
A very thorough post! Thanks for putting all of this info in one place.
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