By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Travel throughout eastern New Mexico slowed to a crawl Saturday as a major winter storm dropped snow across the region.
Numerous roads in Curry, DeBaca and Roosevelt counties were closed Friday and Saturday due to low visibility, drifting snow and accidents. The closures and treacherous road conditions jammed motels in Portales, Clovis and Fort Sumner as the storm continued into Saturday night.
U.S. 70 west of Portales was closed mid-afternoon Saturday and U.S. 60 from Clovis to Vaughn was closed as well. Accidents and slick conditions Friday night forced the closure of N.M. 206 south of Portales as well as N.M. 268 north of Melrose and N.M. 209 from Clovis to Tucumcari.
State police and state highway officials were unsure Saturday afternoon when roads might be reopened.
“We’re currently filled up right now,” said Mario Garza, a clerk at Super 8 Motel in Fort Sumner late Saturday afternoon.
Garza said Fort Sumner was overflowing with stranded motorists Friday night and stayed that way Saturday, mainly after Interstate 40 was closed from Albuquerque to the Texas line. He said state police had blocked travel to Santa Rosa and Vaughn.
In Portales, Holiday Inn Express general manager Melissa Rivers said her lodging business had been brisk and she expected it to get even busier with the closure of the highway to Roswell.
“Last night (Friday) we had numerous walk-ins and we’re already seeing the same thing this evening,” Rivers said on Saturday.
Police in Portales and Clovis reported mostly minor accidents although a Kentucky man’s death in an accident west of Texico on Friday night was attributed to the storm.
State police still had not released the name of the victim Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of accidents,” Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said. “Not as many in town as out in the county, though.”
Berry said Portales police were assisting with accident calls in the county when possible, but during the day Saturday, increased traffic in town led to numerous accidents that kept officers busy inside the city limits.
Berry said N.M. 206 south of Portales was closed Friday after numerous accidents, including at least one rollover.
“It just had to be closed, it was really slick,” Berry said. “Those guys (sheriff and state police) worked long and hard out there last night on those accidents.”
Berry was optimistic the weather conditions would keep people at home instead of on the road on New Year’s Eve. But he said extra manpower was being called in Saturday and today in case things got worse.
“If you don’t have to get out on streets, don’t. It’s just way too dangerous,” Berry said.
The weather service said conditions should start improving today, with clearing skies and decreasing winds statewide, leading into a mostly clear but cool New Year’s Day.
Improving conditions could be short-lived as another northern Pacific disturbance is headed toward New Mexico. The weather service said that suggests another blast of winter by midweek.