Snow closes schools, government agencies

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Bruce Nguyen, owner of USA Nails, shovels off the walkway to the salon on Prince Street Thursday as high winds and snow from a fierce winter storm continue pelting eastern New Mexico.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A wintry mix of freezing rain, high winds and fast falling snow Thursday blanketed the area and shut down a majority of the community.

Clovis schools and government agencies closed Thursday and Friday after when upwards of 6 inches of snow covered roadways already slicked by freezing rain.

The winter storm dumped snow throughout the day, making treacherous road conditions and prompting police to caution residents to stay home.

Icy conditions and packed snow on streets and major highways are causing travel difficulties across the region with no quick end in sight.

State police closed portions of Interstate 40 near Tucumcari.

Thursday evening, N.M. 523 was closed east of Clovis, until conditions improve, said Local Emergency Planning Director Ken De Los Santos.

De Los Santos said the road was impassable due to snow drifts.

In Roosevelt County, Portales Deputy Police Chief Lonnie Berry said accidents related to the snow storm were low, largely because schools and many businesses closed to keep traffic at a minimum.

Berry said city crews were waiting for a break in the storm to clear side streets of snow and ice.

“It’s hard to get to it while its still snowing,” Berry said. “When we get a break we’ll try to attack it. We’ll react to that as it comes up.”

Berry said his department also switched most of its force to four wheel drive vehicles and is helping the Meals on Wheels program.

The winter storm isn’t expected to let up until late Friday.

Some thawing is expected to begin in the afternoon and continue through the weekend as temperatures gradually warm, said meteorologist Brent Wachter at the national weather service in Albuquerque.

Road crews were working diligently throughout the day Thursday and planned to continue through Friday as weather and conditions require.

“We’ve got every available piece of equipment out on the street with every available operator we have,” Public Works Director Clint Bunch said.

The city’s arsenal of equipment, which has been running since Wednesday night, includes eight snowplows, six salt/sand spreaders, two road graders and a front-end loader, in addition to people salting and sanding by hand.

The priority, Bunch said, is the main city thoroughfares. Those are Grand Avenue and Norris, Sycamore, Prince, Thornton, Wheaton, First, Seventh, 10th, 14th and 21st streets.

The city also handles Llano Estacado east of Prince, while west of Prince is the responsibility of the state highway department.

Jack-knifed trucks and cars stuck in ditches were common sites along streets and roads.

“It’s like an ice skating rink out here,” police Chief Steve Sanders said Thursday morning as officers worked to assist stranded and stuck travelers.

Cannon Air Force Base also canceled operations for all non-essential personnel.

And all government offices, including courts, were closed as were many businesses across the region.

Sanders said Prince Street overpass was closed temporarily in the morning when two semi-trucks got stuck. He also said police were being kept busy responding to help motorists stuck in the snow.

“(Roads are) extremely icy and snow packed and the wind is blowing so it’s very cold with the wind chill factor,” Sanders said.

“If at all possible (people) just need to stay home. Don’t come out here and get stranded.”

Travel in outlying and rural areas is also ill advised.

“We are discouraging travel,” Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said, explaining there have been a few single-vehicle crashes in the county involving vehicles sliding off roads.

Northeast and central New Mexico as far south as Roswell remain under a winter storm warning.

Heavy snowfall is expected to continue into Friday morning, bringing between 3 to 5 inches of additional accumulation, according to the National Weather Service out of Albuquerque.

Temperatures remained in the low 20s Thursday with a wind chill of 6 degrees. Today temperatures are expected to rise into the low 30s and high winds are expected to continue, causing drifting and decreased visibility.