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ABQ gets ready to face blizzard expected today

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Expect blizzard conditions across the Albuquerque area and the Sandia and Manzano mountains today into Saturday as strong to damaging east winds develop, gusting as high as 60 mph.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning Thursday afternoon for Albuquerque – possibly the first ever for the city – to be in effect until Saturday morning, with snow accumulations of 4 to 8 inches expected. The heaviest snow is expected on the West Side.

Between 12 and 20 inches of snow was forecast for the Sandia and Manzano mountains.

Forecasters also expect heavy snowfall along and east of the central mountain chain, the Jemez Mountains and Mount Taylor, where up to a foot of snow will be common, and heavier snowfall is likely along the eastern slopes.

Forecasters said winds would gust as high as 60 mph in and near mountain passes, including Tijeras Canyon, through this afternoon.

Travel will be “very difficult to impossible,” according to forecasters. Areas of blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility, and whiteout conditions are likely.

Jennifer Shoemake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said residents should take this storm and its potential blizzard conditions seriously.

“Any amount of snow with winds gusting to 50 and 60 mph will cause whiteout conditions, so folks shouldn’t focus on the amount of snow, although we are expecting a significant amount of snow, which will cause very treacherous travel conditions, especially for the morning commute,” she said.

Crews prepare snowplows and load salt into trucks Thursday in preparation for a blizzard forecast to hit the city today. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Shoemake said forecasters were unable to find a record of a Blizzard Warning ever being issued for Albuquerque. A warning for the Sandia and Manzano mountains was last issued in 2009.

Forecasters recommended that those who must travel have a winter survival kit, and anyone stranded should stay with their vehicle.

Kirtland Air Force Base officials said that only mission-essential personnel were to report today. Emergency services personnel were to contact their duty centers for further instructions. The Eubank and Truman gates will be open.

Rio Rancho officials said municipal offices and facilities will operate on a two-hour delay today and will open to the public at 10 a.m. If conditions continue to worsen, updates will be posted on the city’s website,

Temperatures will range from around 15 degrees above zero to 15 degrees below zero across most of northern and central New Mexico early today and Saturday.

The lowest temperatures since January 2013 are in store for the Albuquerque area through New Year’s Day. Record low temperatures are not expected, but readings will dip into the low teens tonight and Saturday night. Parts of the Albuquerque area along the Rio Grande may have temperatures below zero on a few nights, forecasters said.

The latest travel conditions are available or by calling 511 or 800-432-4269.

Albuquerque officials said Thursday that they were ready for the storm.

About 90 pieces of equipment – 50 snowplows and 40 salt spreaders – and 70 employees were be available for storm duty, which includes sweeping, plowing and salting the city’s roadways, said Patrick Montoya, director of the city’s Municipal Development Department.

“We are always prepared in advance,” Montoya said. “We haven’t had a major storm since 2006 … but we always prepare for a big storm because we want to be ready for the storms.”

A storm on Dec. 29, 2006, dumped more than 11 inches of snow at the Albuquerque International Sunport, breaking the city’s previous one-day record of 10 inches recorded at that site 47 years earlier. The storm was responsible for closure of Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque and cancellation of 75 flights in and out of the airport.

In addition to the 70 employees available for snow duty today, a 16-man crew will be on standby tonight to monitor the storm and respond to any changing street conditions.

“We’re not so much worried about being prepared,” Montoya said, “just worried about the unknown – how severe the storm is going to be. We know that (today) is going to be a very cold day.”

About 16,079 cubic yards of salt/cinder and de-icer are ready to go for winter storms this year.

Matthew Whelan, director of the city’s Solid Waste Management Department, said that if trash collection is canceled today, trash will be collected Saturday.