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Storm Then Hits Plains, Leaves Up to 30 Inches : Snow Strands Hundreds in Southwest

December 15, 1987|From Associated Press

A major snowstorm closed schools and made driving hazardous across the Plains on Monday, after stranding hundreds of travelers in the Southwest, dropping up to 30 inches of snow and nearly doubling the snowfall record in El Paso.

"Nothing is moving," said a desk clerk at the Sands Motel in Vega, Tex., about 40 miles west of Amarillo, which had five-foot drifts. "Everything's literally at a standstill. It's unbelievable."

"We have snow like this (in Vermont) sometimes, but I've never seen it blow so hard," said John Gilbert of Brookfield, Vt., who was one of about 150 people snowbound overnight in the City Hall at Mountainair, N. M. "You could hardly see in front of you."

6 Deaths Blamed on Storm

At least six deaths were blamed on the storm.

After building up over the Southwest, the storm took off to the northeast across the Plains.

The Kansas City area "seems to be the bull's-eye" for the storm, said Bob Barnicle of the National Weather Service at the Kansas City International Airport. "The heaviest snow is going to fall in a path that runs from Wichita (Kan.) over us and northeast of us."

The storm was expected to extend into the upper Midwest during the night, and warnings of more than six inches were posted for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, the weather service said.

Snow blew into Kansas and Missouri on Monday, with up to seven inches in southwestern Kansas. Scores of schools across the two states were closed, and many Kansas roads were snowpacked and icy. Gusty wind cut visibility.

"They're (cars) sliding all over the place," said Kansas City Police Sgt. Thomas Spencer. "Everything's moving. It's just hazardous."

22.3 Inches at El Paso

From 5 a.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday, 16.7 inches of snow fell at El Paso, nearly doubling the former 24-hour record of 8.8 inches set in April, 1983, said meteorologist Steve Fortenberry. By midday, 22.3 inches had fallen.

El Paso's airport was closed briefly, but it and the Lubbock airport were open Monday while Amarillo's remained closed.

The Oklahoma Panhandle had 12 inches of snow with northerly winds blowing at 15 m.p.h. to 25 m.p.h., and the Highway Patrol said that all roads in the western half of the state were snowpacked and hazardous.

"There are troopers here who have been out on the roads many years saying the driving conditions are the worst they've ever been," said Highway Patrol dispatcher Allan Grantz.

The storm brought 30 inches of snow to the Sandia Peak ski area outside Albuquerque. In Colorado's southern mountains, 28 inches fell near the town of Rye, with 20 inches in the downtown area. A 70-car pileup blamed on the weather in Denver closed part of Interstate 70 for two hours Sunday.

New Mexico was hardest hit. Among the many highways closed by state police, Interstate 40 was shut down from the Arizona border past Albuquerque to within about 40 miles of the Texas state line. Westbound I-40 was again closed in the Texas Panhandle from Amarillo to the state line to keep travelers out of New Mexico.

Several hundred motorists were stranded Sunday along I-40, and Gov. Garrey E. Carruthers sent National Guard units to help police in Torrance County, east of Albuquerque.

'Felt Like Minus 20'

"It felt like about minus 20 out there," said Tyrone Finch of Clovis, N. M., who was in his car nearly four hours before help arrived. "I don't think you'd get 20 feet if you tried to walk."

Ruidoso, N. M., near Alamogordo, got 19 inches and Estancia had 18 inches, with drifts five feet deep. A number of school districts canceled Monday's classes.

High wind, with an unofficial peak of more than 90 m.p.h. outside Albuquerque, knocked out power to about 7,000 customers in the city.

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