Advance action helps area weather blizzard


February 26, 2013

Advance action by police and other emergency agencies and citizens heeding numerous warnings to stay off the roads helped many weather the worst blizzard in a decade, officials said.

QCS Photo: Thomas Garcia

Residents drive down slushy and icy roads on South First Street Monday morning after a strong winter storm dropped eight inches of snow on Tucumcari.

Officials credit the early closure of Interstate 40 for a low amount of accidents in Sunday's blizzard, which pummeled the region with 60 mph winds and dumped eight inches of snow on Tucumcari and Quay County. More than 1,000 truckers were stranded at local truck stops because of the many highway closures prompted by storm-slicked roads and white-out driving conditions.

New Mexico State Police worked just one crash in Quay County during the 36 hours that I-40 was closed, said Lt. Lance Bateman. No one was seriously injured in the crash

Bateman said white-out conditions and icy roads prompted state police to close I-40 at 11 p.m., Sunday, which helped to reduce the amount of accidents and prevented any fatalities. He said other major highways including N.M. 209, N.M. 469 and U.S. 54 were also closed for a time.

QCS Photo: Thomas Garcia

A ruler shows four inches of snow at the Quay County Sun at 8 a.m., Monday morning.

"I am positive that we would have had a lot more crashes if we hadn't shut down I-40," Bateman said.

Bateman said snow and high winds made it impossible for motorists to drive and contributed to at least one accident involving one of their own. He said the weather was making it dangerous for state police units patrolling Roosevelt, Curry and Quay counties, noting one officer was involved in a single vehicle Sunday night in Portales. Bateman said the crash happened when the patrolling officer slid into a pole in Portales.

Bateman said there was relatively a low amount of accidents in the region associated with the storm. He said in Curry and Roosevelt Counties they worked three to four crashes and in Santa Rosa they worked six.

"Usually in these type of conditions our officers have worked double those amounts," Bateman said.

Bateman said one of the main efforts that helped was working hand-in-hand with the New Mexico Department of Transportation in efforts to clean and maintain roadways. He said they were able to be steps ahead of Texas in clearing and closing roadways when called for, which likely prevented any fatalities.

QCS Photo: Thomas Garcia

Snow begins to accumulate early Sunday afternoon along south First street in Tucumcari.

Tucumcari police officers responded to the normal amount of call volumes and there was nothing out of the ordinary, said Chief Jason Braziel.

Braziel said there were no accidents worked during the storm, noting officer usually handle at least three to five during storms past. He said many residents elected to stay indoors out of the weather, which reduced the danger of accidents.

The closure of I-40 also prevented a large amount of travelers — other than truckers — from being stranded in Tucumcari; meaning there was no need to open an emergency shelter, said Tucumcari's Interim Fire Chief Scott Jaynes.

Jaynes said there was one call for a patient with a fractured hip. The patient was airlifted to an Amarillo hospital on Monday.

Overall, Jaynes said it was a quiet storm in regards to calls for service in both EMS and fire department.

Of the more than 1,000 truckers stranded in Tucumcari, some 300 parked Love's Travel Stop in Tucumcari. It was good for business but made it difficult for regular customers trying to get around the parking lot and to fuel pumps, said Dewayne Juarez, manager.

Juarez also said employees had to direct traffic once I-40 was opened Tuesday as truckers trying to leave began to bottleneck entrances and exits at the facility.

QCS Photo: Thomas Garcia

Four hours later the same spot where the ruler measured the snow there is now a large puddle of water.

Quay County's Road Department had five blade trucks clearing snow Monday around House, Forrest and other communities to help dig out residents from the storm, said Larry Moore, county road superintendent.

Weather officials said while the worst is over, residents can expect at least another dusting of snow later this week.

There is another chance of up to two inches of snow Thursday for Tucumcari and Logan from a storm system sweeping in from the Pacific Northwest, said Tim Shy, senior forecaster National Weather Service Albuquerque.

Shy said the storm would move in the area late Thursday afternoon after gaining strength in Utah and Colorado.

Check for all important updates such as road and school closings on this and any future storms.


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