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by Valerie Kimble

[Valerie Kimble, an employee of the Office of Academic Affairs and denizen of Brown Hall, was kind enough to share her impressions of the intense hailstorm which hit Socorro on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 5, 2004.]

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 7, 2004 -- Debby Olguin, longtime administrative assistant for the Office for Academic Affairs, advised members of a collegiate reaccreditation team not to bring umbrellas for their Oct. 4-6 visit to New Mexico Tech.

“It never rains much here,” she said. “And if it does, wait five minutes, and the skies will clear.’

Uh-oh. Never tempt the weather gods who watch over the Land of Enchantment. By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, Olguin's advice was dead in the water. Well, under the water would be more accurate.

While Brown Hall staff watched online reports warning Socorroans of a possible tornado (tornado?), hail hammered campus buildings with a velocity never before seen in this area.

Buildings reverberated with hail the size of baseballs bashing against walls, windows, and on the hundreds of vehicles parked across the campus.

Ceiling tiles, soaked with water, fell, damaging office equipment and furniture; upstairs in Brown Hall, even a potted plant fell victim. Parking lots resembled automotive war zones. Vehicles parked in front of Brown Hall were covered with leaves and tree limbs, and the air was heavy with the scent of pine from fallen branches.

And those lovely mission-style buildings with their red tile roofs? Joe Galon, director of Planning for the Tech campus, reported 50 thousand square feet of damaged tile. Damage estimates were still coming in for insurance estimators.

When the hail subsided, employees across campus slowly ventured outside their offices to view the damage first-hand. Few vehicles escaped the wrath of Mother Nature, with blown-out windshields and windows, and baseball-sized dents, the most common damages reported.

Reports filtered across campus of heavy damage to vehicles parked at the Energetic Materials Research & Testing Center, and flooding to the ICASA addition, forcing employees to leave the building.

Can't say old Ma doesn't have a sense of humor, though -- within minutes after the storm, the sun cast its rays over the carnage, proving Olguin right about at least one truism of New Mexico weather.

Facilities Management crews were quick to respond to the damage. Some staff toured buildings, logging damages; others cleaned the hail-and-limb covered pathways that crisscross the campus.

Without electricity or phone service, employees began to filter out of darkened and damaged offices to tend to insurance claims, and to view possible damages to their homes. Even so, Michelle Lucero of the Facilities Management warehouse continued to deliver packages to campus offices, accompanied by a loyal student employee.

“Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail....” people chanted as Lucero went about business as usual in still-dark buildings.

The freak storm didn’t deter a band of students determined to air their views before the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities.

Separate sessions for staff and students had been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in the Workman and MSEC buildings. A glass dome burst in the foyer of MSEC, effectively canceling the staff session.

However, once the foyer was cleared of hail and other debris, a core of students served as recruiters, and the recruited students gathered still others, eventually assembling a good-sized group for the reaccreditation team visitors.

The NCA reaccreditation visit only occurs every 10 years. Tech officials hope it is at least that long before the hail returns.

-NMT-