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Snow, cold blast New Mexico

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Fall colors linger near Sandia Peak Ski Area as a storm moves into New Mexico on Monday, blanketing the mountains, including the road to Sandia Crest. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexicans traded in pumpkin patches and fall leaves for a winter wonderland on Monday, as a strong storm blasted much of the state with freezing temperatures, low wind chills and heavy snowfall, creating hazardous commutes, relief for wildfires and broad smiles among ski enthusiasts.

“We will probably break several snowfall records for the month of October for many areas of the state,” said Daniel Porter, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque. “This is pretty early in the season to get this much in the way of accumulating snowfall.”

Some parts of Albuquerque could receive as much as 8 inches of snow over the next few days, Porter said.

Tuesday, today, is expected be the most severe day of this week’s slow-moving storm, as snow accumulates across the state and temperatures plummet.

Albuquerque is expected to dip to a low of 19 degrees on Tuesday, which would break a record low for that date. The high is expected to be 34 degrees.

A snowplow clears N.M. 502 near Los Alamos on Monday. A winter storm dumped several inches of snow in the area. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Northern New Mexico will likely bear the brunt of the low temperatures on Tuesday, with a low of 10 degrees in Taos and minus 4 degrees in Angel Fire – also record lows.

The rest of the state will struggle to break into the 40s Tuesday.

New Mexico’s ski resorts welcomed the fresh powder, said Reed Weimer, marketing manager for the Red River Ski and Summer Area.

By Monday afternoon, the storm had dropped about 2 feet of snow on the resort, which is scheduled to open for the winter season on Nov. 25.

“We’re really glad to have the moisture, especially with all the fires in the West,” Weimer said. “We had that September snow, but it’s nice to just dive into it now.”

Emergency personnel respond to an accident involving two Albuquerque Police Department cars on eastbound Interstate 40 at Juan Tabo during a winter storm Monday. The New Mexico Department of Transportation reported hazardous driving conditions for much of northern and central New Mexico. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The late October storm may break temperature and snowfall records. But New Mexico remains in an extended drought after a dry spring and summer.

Nearly 70% of the state is experiencing severe drought or worse, according to the most recent map from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

“It was 70 degrees last week, so a storm like this gets us thinking more about winter,” Weimer said. “We’ll see what Mother Nature lets fall from the sky this winter.”

Tania McCormack, marketing director at Taos Ski Valley, said a storm of this magnitude is unusual for this time of year. The resort, which had received about 20 inches from the storm by Monday afternoon, plans to open on Thanksgiving Day.

“Pass sales are going really well,” McCormack said. “Especially with the snow starting to fall, we’ve seen an uptick in pass purchases. I think people are really excited to get outside and back on the mountain.”

Weather forecasters predict a La Niña pattern this winter, which could mean drier-than-average conditions.

Porter said this early storm is bringing much-needed moisture but is a “small drop in the bucket” for the state’s drought situation.

“It certainly won’t be a drought-buster,” he said. “It took us a while to get into this drought, and as deep into the drought as we are, it’s going to take us quite a bit of time to come out of that. But every little bit does help.”

In Las Vegas, the sudden drop in temperatures gave some residents a figurative whiplash, as they adjusted to the sudden drop in temperatures.

Mayor Louie Trujillo said the roads were pretty clear but the temperature was hovering above 10 degrees, spurring him to turn on his pellet stove for the first time this year.

Joseph Harkey, 15, tries out a snowboard on a snow-covered hill at Ashley Pond in Los Alamos on Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s just this frigid cold snap, I think that’s what took people by surprise, just how cold it got,” Trujillo said. “Saturday was nice – I was out at the park Saturday morning talking to constituents and it was 70 some degrees… To wake up to this (Monday) morning was just kind of obnoxious.”

In the Albuquerque area, multiple traffic accidents and road closures accompanied the first significant snowfall of the season.

Portions of Interstates 40 and 25 in the metro area were closed intermittently due to accidents as slick roads plagued drivers Monday afternoon.

City maintenance crews began clearing and salting roads, focusing on major emergency routes, bridges and intersections.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation reported hazardous driving conditions for northern and northeastern New Mexico on Monday.

Because of the record-low temperatures, motorists should expect wet or icy roads for the rest of the week, even in areas that don’t receive heavy snowfall.

Also, freezing fog in the mornings could reduce visibility on roads throughout the state.

PNM had not reported any power outages Monday related to the storm. The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse closed early due to the weather.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority reminded residents to insulate pipes in unheated areas to prevent burst pipes. Also, automatic sprinkler systems should be shut off.

Albuquerque’s West Side homeless shelter reopened due to the storm. A COVID-19 outbreak had forced the shelter to stop taking new residents earlier this month.

Snowfall is expected to taper off for much of the state by Thursday, but the colder air will linger.

Albuquerque will have a low of 22 degrees Thursday and 26 degrees Friday. Low temperatures will creep up into the 30s this weekend.

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