|7:31 pm: Storm blankets New Mexico; closes roads; Governor declares disaster|
By The Associated Press
The latest storm to hit New Mexico shut down roads throughout the state, canceled numerous airline flights, prompted police to discourage travel and forced state officials to activate New Mexico's Emergency Operations Center.
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By 10 p.m. Friday, Albuquerque's airport reported 10.5 inches _ a record. The National Weather Service said it was the most snow to fall during a single calendar day ever, beating the previous record of 10 inches on Dec. 15, 1959.
The snowfall also was the largest amount recorded at the Albuquerque airport in a single month, even through December isn't quite over and snow continued to fall Saturday. Snowfall for the month totaled 14.8 inches by Friday night; the prior record was 14.7 inches in December 1959.
The storm _ which the National Weather Service labeled as "dangerous winter weather" _ dumped up to 2 feet of snow on the Albuquerque metro area and more than a foot in Santa Fe County from Friday into Saturday.
New Mexico has suffered widespread damage, and the emergency disaster declaration will make money available for counties to recover some costs, Richardson said.
State police warned people not to travel, but said those who did venture out should have the latest weather information and road closure bulletins to avoid being stranded, and should let someone know where they were going and what route they planned to take.
Roads throughout the state were snow-packed and icy with intermittent closures. The state Department of Transportation said driving conditions were difficult throughout most of New Mexico.
Interstate 25 was closed from Santa Fe into Colorado on Saturday, with blizzard conditions and zero visibility reported at Raton Pass in the afternoon. I-25 was open between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but was snowpacked and icy.
Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque to the Texas border was closed most of Saturday, but reopened late in the afternoon. However, police said the road remained icy.
Snow-packed highways stranded many motorists, including drivers of countless tractor-trailer rigs. Shelters were set up at schools and churches, including Moriarty High School and the Clayton Baptist Church.
Department of Transportation crews were sanding major highways. Department spokesman S.U. Mahesh said more than 1,100 plows and sand trucks were working around the state, and had been for two days.
"The problem is we can't keep up," Mahesh said. "We keep clearing out and it keeps building back up."
The storm closed city government offices in Rio Rancho and state, county and city government offices and businesses in Santa Fe on Friday, sending thousands of people home early. Employees of many businesses in Albuquerque and Santa Fe didn't make it in to work Friday and Saturday.
Lisa Harris, owner of Video Library, a Santa Fe video store, said people leaving work early turned out to be good for her business.
"It's amazing how many people are in here getting movies," she said. "We've been busy all day. ... The more snow there is, the more people should stay home, the more they come and get movies. So, I'm wearing a big smile today."
The heavy, wet snow sent tree limbs sagging onto power lines or downed the lines themselves. Late Saturday afternoon, Public Service Company of New Mexico crews were still trying to restore electricity to 4,100 customers in Albuquerque, Belen and Sandoval County.
PNM spokesman Jeff Buell said crews were gaining on the outages, but expected more to occur as temperatures dropped at sundown. Crews were remaining on the job overnight, he said.
Some airlines canceled flights in and out of Albuquerque. Daniel Jiron, a spokesman for the Albuquerque International Sunport, advised travelers to call ahead to see if their flight was delayed or canceled.
Some snow totals, as of noon Saturday, included 3 inches at Gallup, 4 inches at Laguna Pueblo, 10.5 inches at White Rock, 10.5 to 14 inches at Rio Rancho, 14.5 inches at Santa Fe, 20 to 27 inches at Las Vegas and 12 to 20 inches in Albuquerque, including 15.6 at the airport.
Winter storm warnings remained in effect through Saturday night for much of northern and central New Mexico and a blizzard warning was in effect through Saturday night for the northeast plains, with strong winds and drifting snow dropping visibilities to near zero.
The weather service said conditions should start improving Sunday, with clearing skies and decreasing winds statewide, leading into a mostly clear but cool New Year's Day.
Improving conditions could be short-lived as another northern Pacific disturbance is headed toward New Mexico. The weather service said that suggests another blast of winter by midweek.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Storm blankets New Mexico
at 8:35 PM