Los Alamos digging out from snow

January 4, 2019

If there was a winner — and a loser — in the three-snowstorms-in-a-week weather extravaganza that hit New Mexico, it may have been Los Alamos County.

For some in Los Alamos, it was a dream come true: about 2 feet of snow in a two-day period — perfect for skiing, snowboarding and aesthetics.

“It’s beautiful,” said Thomas Lebrun, an engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory and an avid snowboarder, who was among those to take advantage of 36 inches of fresh snow reported between Tuesday and Wednesday at Pajarito Mountain Ski Area.

For others, it was a cold and inconvenient way to end an old year and begin a new one: Lingering piles of snow and icy roads affected nearly every resident on the Hill.

Between Monday and Wednesday, Los Alamos received between 20 and 36 inches, depending on the area of town. Jemez Springs had 33 inches and Las Vegas, N.M., got 15.

Betty Jacob, a cashier at Los Alamos Cooperative Market, said the co-op was closed Tuesday, along with almost every business in town. Those that opened, she said, were short-staffed.

“I went to Smith’s yesterday and only two people had shown up to cashier,” Jacob said.

The reason, she said, was obvious: “We haven’t gotten this amount of snow in such a short period of time in over 15 years.”

“The entire town was shut down. … This kind of snow just wrecks the town,” said Lebrun, adding that even Pajarito was closed Tuesday due to a thick layer of snow on roads around town.

“When you plow, you can only plow so much,” he said. “We have a lot of roads in remote locations, so it takes a lot of effort to get everything cleaned up.”

By Wednesday morning, Jacob said Los Alamos’ main streets had been cleared and side streets were somewhat plowed.

Los Alamos Police Department Chief Dino Sgambellone said business closures helped with allowing street crews to plow roads and lay salt. Overall, he said, people stayed indoors the first half of the week, decreasing wrecks and safety issues.

However, Sgambellone said, one concern was for the elderly.

“Because we have such an older population, people are not able to get out if they need to,” he said. “It traps people, especially when the snow gets cold and freezes. So, we’ve actually been going out and assisting some people, digging them out [Wednesday].”

National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Shoemake said she couldn’t “begin to speculate” how long it might take to completely clear roads in the Jemez Mountains, but she said with certainty that “it’s going to take some time with that amount of snow.”

Shoemake said sunshine and warming temperatures over the next several days should help improve conditions across the state. By Saturday, she said, temperatures should finally break above freezing in Santa Fe and Los Alamos.

In the meantime, Jacob said, “people are kind of trapped.” On Wednesday, she said sidewalks remained inaccessible and that she’d seen several abandoned vehicles on the sides of roads.

“I’m originally from Canada and grew up in Chicago … so I know how to drive in this stuff. Most people don’t,” Jacob said. “I have to shake my head at the way some people drive. … They’re slipping and sliding all over the place.”

Shoemake said another storm system with snow potential could arrive Sunday night, although she said it won’t be nearly as cold. Instead of snow accumulation, she said, Northern New Mexico could see a mix of rain and snow at lower elevations.

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