A dangerous combination of powerful winds and blinding snow raged through the Southwest, Southern Rockies and Great Plains Monday and Monday night. The severe snowstorm led to fatal road accidents and paralyzed traffic in five states: New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Four were killed when their vehicle collided with a pickup truck in part of eastern New Mexico where blizzard-like conditions are rare, and a prison guard and inmate died when a prison van crashed along an icy roadway in eastern Colorado.
Snowfall totals ranged from several inches to as much as two feet at high elevations in New Mexico and Colorado.
NOAA’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) reports as much as 15” fell in southeast Colorado, with drifts up to 10 feet in Springfield.
In New Mexico, two feet piled up in Pietown with 7” in Albuquerque and a more modest 2” in Sante Fe.
Sustained winds over 30 mph with gusts to 50 mph reduced visibilities to near zero, producing blizzard conditions, particularly into the Southern Plains.
The Associated Press reports nearly 100 rescue calls came in from stranded motorists in the Texas panhandle, resulting in the closure of sections of I-40. Snowfall totals reached as high as a foot in the extreme northwest section, tapering off to just a dusting in the southeast panhandle.
The snow moved into the Oklahoma Panhandle early on Monday, and 1.5 inches accumulated in about an hour, said Vicki Roberts, who owns the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast in Kenton.
Her inn sits at the base of the 4,973ft-tall Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma. Looking out her window, she couldn’t see it.
The combination of wind and plummeting temperatures dropped wind chills into the single digits in extreme western Oklahoma (map).
In southwest Kansas, whiteout conditions were reported overnight with 6-12” of snow common, including drifts of 3 to 5 feet. Scott City received 12” and Dodge City, 6”, a daily record. The towering snow drifts and compromised visibility shut down numerous roads.
The good news for these five states is that the storm has weakened and the heaviest snow has ended.
However, conditions are forecast to remain hazardous where heavy snow fell in the Plains due to the continuation of lighter snow and blowing and drifting of existing snow. NOAA’s HPC cautions:
THE STRONG AND GUSTY WINDS ACROSS AREAS WHICH HAVE RECEIVED SIGNIFICANT SNOWFALL ACCUMULATIONS WILL CAUSE BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW. BLIZZARD CONDITIONS WITH WIND CHILL TEMPERATURES BELOW ZERO ARE ALSO EXPECTED. TRAVEL THROUGH THE REGION WILL LIKELY BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT...IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE DURING THE DAY ON TUESDAY.
Watch a video overview of the storm below...