Rare snow roller created by wind when conditions are just right. Courtesy photo: Beth Parmer
On Sunday morning, they were all over several sections of Tucumcari.
Women likened them to jellyrolls, or rolls of batting. Men described them as looking like logs or cylinders.
“They look like a roll of insulation,” except they are snow, said Charlie Liles, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
They are one of nature’s phenomenons: “snow rollers.”
Snow rollers are nature’s way of creating snowballs.
“I think they are rare,” said Liles, who couldn’t recall such an incident.
And during the recent snow storms, “We haven’t had any reports of them,” Liles said.
Rex Kirksey, of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center, said he had not received any reports of the snow rollers and had not observed the phenomenon before.
David Gutzler, climatologist from University of New Mexico’s Earth and Planetary Sciences department, said, “I can’t cite any other snow rollers being sighted. They’re pretty new to me.”
In addition to a perfect temperature, that’s near freezing, the ratio of water to snow has to be just right for snow rollers to kick up and be formed, Liles said.
The conditions are like those “when you make a good snowman or snow balls,” Liles said.
Those conditions were apparently just right on Saturday night because on Sunday, farmer and rancher Tom Bauler said, there were hundreds and hundreds of them in his pastures off of Highway 104.
“I even kicked a few because I thought there was tumbleweed inside them. But there wasn’t anything in them. I estimate they were about two feet thick and two feet long,” Bauler said.
Gigi Parker pointed out one that been created on the roof of a livestock shed.
Beth Parmer also saw them. Parmer took dozens of pictures of dozens of the snow rollers on the fields at the Tucumcari Elementary School and Mesalands Community College on 11th Street.
“The largest center was 18 inches, and I’d estimate the longest ones were about 30 inches long,” Parmer said.
Here’s how the National Weather Service Web site describes the process of snow roller creation:
• The ground surface must have an icy, crusty snow, on which falling snow cannot stick.
• About an inch or so of loose, wet snow must accumulate.
• Gusty and strong winds are needed to scoop out chunks of snow.
It also relates that, “once the initial ‘seed’ of the roller is started, it begins to roll. It collects additional snow from the ground as it rolls along, leaving trails behind it. ... many times they are hollow. They can be as small as a golf ball, or as large as a 30 gallon drum, but typically they are about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.”
One Web site discussing the phenom said some meteorologists go their whole life without observing them.
Another said explorers saw them on trips to the Artic.
Parmer, a retired school teacher who has lived in Quay County all her life, said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. According to my research, they are quite rare.”