Heavy Snow Closes Roads, Delays Flights In West

By Salon Staff

Published December 23, 2011 8:00PM (EST)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Heavy snow from a winter storm blanketed parts of the West on Friday, stranding motorists throughout New Mexico, and delaying holiday travelers who were trying to fly in and out of Albuquerque and Denver.

The snow and high winds struck the region Thursday and forced dozens of drivers off Interstate 40 after severe conditions made driving near impossible in western New Mexico.

"If you don't have (four-wheel drive) and you just have two-wheel ... you're either going to spin or stay stuck," stranded motorist Tarquin Wilding told KOAT-TV while in Grants, N.M., on his way to Santa Fe.

By Friday morning, the National Weather Service reported that Grants and parts of western New Mexico had been slammed with more than a foot of snow. A winter storm warning remained in effect for the state through Friday afternoon, but meteorologists said the snow wasn't expected to clear up until the weekend.

Some parts of the state saw 16 inches as state and local police responded to dozens of minor accidents. No major injuries were reported.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation closed parts of I-40 around Albuquerque and in eastern New Mexico because of poor driving conditions due to ice and heavy winds. Large portions of I-25 from Truth or Consequences to Las Cruces, and I-10 in western New Mexico also were closed, and authorities were urging motorists to seek shelter in hotels.

El Paso, Texas, residents awoke to snow covered roads and yards Friday, and some sections of I-10 in the western part of the state were reduced to one lane as officers responded to a rash of accidents. Other West Texas cities and the central portion of the state were expected to get their own snowfall by this weekend.

Brian Shoemaker, of Albuquerque, was stuck in a line of motorists who had been stopped by police at a roadblock along U.S. 550 in Rio Rancho, N.M. He was heading to Colorado to spend Christmas with his family. and unhappy to learn it would be early afternoon before he could get on the road again.

"Some places in Albuquerque it was horrible, and some places it was great. It's just real spotty," he said. "You'll move from good to bad within two-, three-mile sections."

Jim Hunsaker, an employee with Union Pacific Railroad, had even farther to go. He hoped to get home to Salt Lake City, Utah, before Christmas Eve after spending several days working in New Mexico.

"It's mindboggling that they even close these roads. In Utah, this isn't nothing," he said of the conditions Friday morning. "We travel in conditions like this all the time, so it's kind of frustrating they've got me shut down here."

Rio Rancho Police Officer Charles Ritter turned away motorist after motorist, telling them that much of northwestern New Mexico had been shuttered by the storm.

"It's for their own safety," he said after one woman pleaded unsuccessfully to get past the roadblock so she could get to her father's home in Colorado.

In Colorado, operations at the Denver International Airport were getting back to normal after a storm that brought about 10 inches of snow. However, airport officials say passengers flying out Friday morning would still have deicing delays of about 25 minutes after leaving their gates.

About 100 flights were canceled at the Denver airport on Thursday because of the snow. Most of those were commuter flights to rural or mountain towns.

A piece of snow removal equipment struck a jet parked at a gate, forcing passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to Los Angeles to switch to another plane.

Daniel Jiron, a spokesman for Albuquerque International Sunport, said the Albuquerque airport was seeing fewer delays Friday as conditions improved.

"We've had delays here and there but otherwise we're in good shape," Jiron said.

Anchorage, Alaska, got up to 14 inches of snow early Friday, but Alaska Airlines, the major carrier at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, only had minor delays.


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras. Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Rio Rancho, N.M., and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

Salon Staff

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