Pope cameras to monitor winter weather conditions

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Members present at weather preparedness meeting.

Photo by Lisa Morton

By Lisa Morton

Culberson County Judge Carlos Urias and the Texas Department of Transportation El Paso Division met last week to bolster efforts for better communication with area responders and those who monitor our roadways.  The group assembled included members of the local Sheriff’s office, school district transportation personnel, the Union Pacific RR, Volunteer Fire Department personnel, and members of TxDOT from El Paso, Pecos, Alpine and Ft. Davis.

The National Weather Service personnel from Midland presented a program outlining the lines of defense in dangerous weather conditions.  TxDOT Director of Operations, Ken Barnett, explained that the areas spanning the I-10/I-20 split east of Van Horn, north to the New Mexico state line, and south to Rio Grande, remain the biggest challenge, stretching resources and response efforts very thin.

The hard freeze storms of 2015 that caused interstate closures here were a point of reference for the problems encountered.  Van Horn was hit hard, with temperatures in the low 20s and wind chill factors in the single digits.  With more than 500 hotel and motel rooms rented, the decision was made to open the Convention Center and subsequently the school and churches.  This decision served to help stranded families, with the final tally showing more than 700 people accommodated.  Realistically, Van Horn does not have the facilities to address emergencies of this magnitude, but luckily, the Red Cross El Paso Unit come to the town’s aid last December.

Also discussed was the implementation of new technology in weather and traffic communications.  The 2015 visit of Pope Frances to the area utilized camera surveillance equipment now being used in the area, which enables controllers to see traffic problems in real time and dispatch resources quicker.  In addition, TxDOT now has more resources available to the east at their Balmorhea division.  The emphasis on the most immediate communication for responders was detailed by Culberson County Dispatcher, Jennifer Velez, who added that contributing that regular updates, including use of social media could discourage travelers from traveling in dangerous conditions.

Judge Urias commented that those present at the meeting received valuable information that will coordinate and communicate efforts to keep the traveling public safe during severe winter weather.  The County will focus on reviewing the forecast and response plan for the upcoming winter season, which is predicted to have fewer storms, but with more severe conditions