Second punch of wintry weather expected

December 27, 2018

Wednesday morning’s snowstorm — er, “snow squall” — was just the beginning.

A second dose of rough winter weather is on its way later this week — and meteorologists say it will be bigger and more foreboding than its predecessor.

Between 5 inches and 8 inches of snow, with low temperatures in the single digits, are expected to arrive to the Santa Fe area by early Friday morning, Jennifer Shoemake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.

That bone-chilling warning follows a Wednesday storm that dropped more than 3 inches of snow on Santa Fe, snarled traffic throughout the region and closed some businesses early.

Bottom line: If you thought Wednesday’s travel conditions through Northern New Mexico were a pain in the rearview mirror, you’re in for a weekend of you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Shoemake said Friday’s snowfall could cause severe road conditions for holiday travelers, with far-below-freezing temperatures adding to the potential for problems. On Friday, Santa Fe’s high will be in the low 20s, and the low Friday could dip to single digits.

Although the low temperatures “aren’t necessarily unusual,” she said, “we don’t normally see that many consecutive hours [up to 72] below freezing.”

“This will be a much bigger storm for the state as a whole,” she added.

Wednesday’s storm brought an inch to 2 inches of snow to Santa Fe in the morning, slowing down commuting time throughout the city. “There are crashes everywhere,” said Greg Gurulé, a spokesman with the Santa Fe Police Department, around noon. “If I gave you a number [on how many crashes there are], it wouldn’t be accurate five minutes from now.”

Among Wednesday’s traffic mishaps was one involving a Rio Arriba County deputy who was injured when she was struck by a vehicle while investigating a crash scene near Española.

A posting on the Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office Facebook page says that “the deputy was struck by a vehicle that lost control on the snow packed roads,” but indicates the injuries to the deputy, identified by various news sources as Cindy Garcia, are not life-threatening.

Problem areas included Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, which was closed for a time as motorists struggled to safely make it up and down La Bajada. The freeway was reopened by 2 p.m.

By 5 p.m., the city had received 3.5 inches in some areas.

Shoemake said the morning “snow squall” — a short-lived, but quick and heavy burst of snow — proved tricky in many places.

“[Snow squalls] are very hard to predict where and when they would occur,” she said. “We did expect snow in Santa Fe, but it’s very hard to predict those rates, even hours prior.”

Sarah Moring, a traveler from Amarillo, Texas, said she drove into Santa Fe early Wednesday and arrived just before the storm hit. But upon her arrival in town, Moring said, she nearly got into a wreck on St. Francis Drive due to slick road conditions.

“It was dangerous,” she said.

For those who didn’t have to be in a car, Santa Fe in snow was a beautiful sight.

Niyati Hedge a tourist from Houston, said she was excited for the snow.

“We’re enjoying this weather,” Hedge said with a laugh.

With tourists building snowmen and commencing snowball fights on the Plaza, it looked like a winter holiday. But some businesses and government agencies were forced to close, including District Court and Santa Fe Magistrate Court.

Santa Fe’s high on Thursday should hover right around the freezing mark, weather service meteorologist Alyssa Clements said, though the bulk of the next storm won’t arrive until late Thursday or Friday morning.

Shoemake said forecasters are predicting “especially treacherous” drives at that time with difficult to severe travel conditions across the state.

Santa Fe city officials were making preparations Wednesday, with the Streets and Drainage Division operating on “hot spot” areas — hilly or icy patches — with snowplows, said Javier Martinez, division director. Those areas included Gonzales Road, Cerro Gordo Road and Palace Avenue.

City spokesman Matt Ross said many of Santa Fe’s busiest roads — including Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive — are state highways, meaning that they’re generally managed by state crews. However, he added, the city sometimes steps in with the Streets and Drainage Division crew.

Martinez said at least six — sometimes eight — snowplows are on city streets, dumping 5 cubic yards of a salt-and-cinder mix with every load. One truck, he said, typically refills about four times a day.

Prior to each storm, crews check equipment to ensure everything is functioning efficiently. But Martinez warned that when temperatures are in the single digits, the salt mix isn’t as effective.

“Even the salt-and-cinder mix will not mount the ice once it drops to a certain degree,” Martinez said, adding that if that’s the case in Friday’s storm, “it could be a long weekend.”

Kim Gallegos, chief public relations officer with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said 24-hour crews will be on standby through the weekend.

“Today was kind of out of left field,” Gallegos said Wednesday. “We expected snow, but it hit all at once. … Knowing something else is coming down the pike Friday, we will be more prepared.”

Martinez said city crews will be vigilant as the weekend approaches.

“There is a lot of planning for these storms,” he said. “We are ready.”

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