ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A severe winter blast has struck most of New Mexico, closing schools and shutting down major highways across the state.
Motorists sought emergency shelter overnight as state officials closed both directions of Interstate 40 from Albuquerque to Gallup — part of the historic Route 66 — after blowing snow caused near-zero visibility. It was open Tuesday morning but traffic was moving slowly because of ice on the road.
Roads still closed Tuesday morning included Interstate 25 between Las Cruces and Belen, Interstate 10 between Lordsburg to Las Cruces and U.S. Highway 70 between Alamogordo and Las Cruces. A number of crashes were reported on I-10 between Las Cruces and Deming, and there was a multiple car pileup on I-10 east of the Las Cruces airport.
The storm was the third to hit the state recently and spread heavy snow throughout northern and southern New Mexico. It forced school districts to close or end classes early Monday, as motorists struggled with icy roads. Early Tuesday KOB-TV reported nearly 200 active closings and delays.
Julia Pardue, a front desk attendant at the Super 8 hotel in Grants, said a number of stranded motorists got rooms for the rest of the day after Interstate 40 was closed rather than wait for the highway to reopen.
"A lot of people just didn't want to be on the roads," she said.
Meteorologists said heavy snow wasn't to blame for the highway closures but rather strong winds brushing the light snow across roads, making visibility difficult. Some areas, such as Tajique, saw 2-foot snow drifts.
Kerry Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said most of the heavy snowfall ended by Monday afternoon and just around an inch or two was expected throughout most of New Mexico.
Jones said residents also should expect "bitter cold" weather with temperatures 15 below zero in some parts. Jones said temperatures will gradually warm throughout the week.
Severe weather even brought snow to southern New Mexico — a region usually spared the worst of winter blasts. Crews worked to clear snow and salted icy roadways in the region, especially around Lordsburg, Silver City, Socorro, Magdalena and Truth or Consequences. More than 700 employees and 500 pieces of equipment will be available to keep state routes clear.
"The NMDOT is out in full force to assist law enforcement with road closures, while treating the roadways in order to secure a safe roadway for the traveling public," said District Engineer Frank Guzman told the Las Cruces Sun-News. "Crews will continue to work throughout the evening into the weekend as this storm passes through our region."