New Mexico struggles with winter blast aftermath

AP News
Posted: Dec 06, 2011 10:02 AM
New Mexico struggles with winter blast aftermath

New Mexico continued Tuesday to deal with the aftermath of a severe winter blast as more schools closed and the southern part of the state saw closed highways and weather related car pileups.

Motorists sought emergency shelter overnight as state officials closed both directions of Interstate 40 from Albuquerque to Gallup _ part of the historic Route 66 _ after blowing snow caused near-zero visibility. It was open Tuesday morning but traffic was moving slowly because of ice on the road.

Roads still closed Tuesday morning included Interstate 25 between Las Cruces and Belen, Interstate 10 between Lordsburg to Las Cruces and U.S. Highway 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces. A number of crashes were reported on I-10 between Las Cruces and Deming, and there was a multiple car pileup on I-10 east of the Las Cruces airport.

The storm was the third to hit the state recently and spread heavy snow throughout northern and southern New Mexico. It forced school districts to close or end classes early Monday, as motorists struggled with icy roads. Early Tuesday KOB-TV reported nearly 200 active closings and delays.

Meteorologists said heavy snow wasn't to blame for the highway closures but rather strong winds brushing the light snow across roads, making visibility difficult. Some areas, such as Tajique, saw 2-foot snow drifts.

Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the severe weather was expected Tuesday to move from the northern and central part of the state to the south where winds and light snow was expected to make traveling difficult.

Although most of the snow was expected to end, Jones also said residents also should expect wind and bitter cold weather, with temperatures 15 below zero in some parts. He said temperatures would slowly warm throughout the week but that it would delay the melting of snow.

Severe weather even brought snow to southern New Mexico _ a region usually spared the worst of winter blasts. Crews worked to clear snow and salted icy roadways in the region, especially around Lordsburg, Silver City, Socorro, Magdalena and Truth or Consequences. More than 700 employees and 500 pieces of equipment will be available to keep state routes clear.

Las Cruces Superintendent Stan Rounds announced Tuesday that all classes were canceled Tuesday due to snow, icy roads and freezing temperature.

New Mexico State University and Dona Ana Community College also both announced a two-hour delayed start for its main campus.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation said the department worked Monday with Las Cruces police and the Housing Authority to make sure that drivers who weren't close to home could pull over and stay in a temporary shelter until conditions improved.

Bridget Spedalieri, a spokeswoman for NMDOT, told KFOX-TV that department workers in the south still needed help.

"Roads are very icy, very slick," said Spedalieri. "We're not fully equipped as much as the northern areas in regards to our snow removal operations, so some of our patrols will send out some of our equipment to other areas."