Polar Vortex brings big chill to NM

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The sun was shining in Albuquerque and birds were chirping earlier this week. New Mexicans soaked up the warmth in short sleeves and sunglasses, and winter seemed like a distant memory.

But now New Mexico is preparing for a weather whiplash forecast to start Friday.

A polar vortex that is already affecting the central U.S. will bring three powerful winter storms to New Mexico. Much of the state will experience extreme wind chills, icy roads and blowing snow.

Daniel Porter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said this weekend and early next week could be the coldest period of time New Mexico has experienced since 2011.

“The very poor visibility may not reach blizzard warning criteria,” Porter said, “but it will certainly feel like a blizzard across eastern New Mexico.”

Three storm systems

The first storm will roll in Friday. Mountainous areas in northern New Mexico have the best chance of snow during that storm.

Light rain and snow is possible in the rest of the state on Friday.

“It appears that the second storm system, particularly on Sunday, is probably going to be the most impactful across our region,” Porter said.

A third storm could approach New Mexico on Monday night, with a chance of snow and rain.

Cold and windy

Many New Mexico towns could see temperatures 20 to 40 degrees below normal this weekend, meteorologist Alyssa Clements said.

On Sunday, Albuquerque has a forecast high of 35 degrees and low of 26.

“It will feel even colder than that, with our very strong winds and wind chills on Sunday,” Clements said. “We’re looking at two to four days in this area where temperatures stay below 32 degrees.”

Wind speeds in central New Mexico could reach 40 to 45 mph on Sunday.

The wind chill temperature is expected to be zero degrees in the metro area on Sunday night and Monday morning.

Monday will be bitterly cold in Albuquerque, with a low of 8 degrees and high of 31 forecast.

New Mexico’s eastern plains will bear the brunt of low temperatures this weekend and early next week.

Roswell has an expected low of -1 degrees and high of 19 on Monday. Clovis is expected to hit a high of 14 degrees and dip to -7 degrees.

Snow and freezing rain

Freezing fog and drizzle will affect eastern New Mexico for the next several days.

Northern New Mexico will likely receive the most snow from the weekend storm. Chama could get 8 to 12 inches of snow.

Albuquerque has a 90% chance of precipitation on Sunday. Two to 3 inches of snow is expected in the city.

Tucumcari, Fort Sumner and Clovis could all receive 4 to 6 inches of snow by Sunday night.

Icy, snowpacked roads

Kerry Jones, meteorologist in charge at the NWS Albuquerque office, said the abrupt change in weather this weekend could make for difficult driving.

“This is some serious cold,” Jones said. “I have yet to see arctic air move into eastern New Mexico that has not delivered that freezing precipitation. It only takes a glaze of ice on I-40, on U.S. 285, and we could be in for some real nasty travel.”

People who must travel this weekend should have an emergency kit in their cars, with warm clothes, water and snacks.

Road conditions and closures are updated on nmroads.com.

Protect pets and pipes

New Mexicans should secure shelter for their pets and livestock as the temperatures plummet.

Exposed pipes are also at risk of bursting in the extreme cold.

“We’re going to have an extended period of subfreezing temps and dangerous wind chills,” Porter said. “That introduces the risk for frostbite, which can occur within only a few minutes, especially if you have exposed skin.”

National impacts

The arctic air mass will span the Great Plains to the Great Lakes in the coming days, according to a National Weather Service warning.

Wind gusts could make it feel as cold as 50 degrees below zero in some northern states.

Icy highways caused a 100-vehicle pileup in the Fort Worth, Texas, area on Thursday morning. The Fort Worth Police Department said at least six people were killed in the incident on Interstate 35. At least 36 people were taken to hospitals, some with critical injuries.

The winter storm has also caused power outages in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, the Weather Service said.

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