By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
Monday’s harsh combination of wind, freezing rain and snow contributed to multiple road closures and a fatal accident in Curry County.
Four people were killed and two others were injured in the two-vehicle collision on U.S.60/84 east of Melrose, according to Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller. Waller said about 9 p.m. that identification of the deceased was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Waller said just before 2:45 p.m. a westbound Ford truck driven by James Townson, 67, of Clovis, was struck by an eastbound vehicle. All four of the deceased were traveling together, Waller said.
“It appears the passenger vehicle had lost traction and began spinning in the road,” Waller said.
Townson and his daughter, Deanna Trujillo, 41, were taken to Plains Regional Medical Center, where they were listed in stable condition, Waller said.
A 16-mile stretch of 60/84 between Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose was closed due to harsh conditions and law enforcement working the fatal accident, Waller said. He did not have information at press time if the road had been reopened.
NMRoads.com noted as of 9:30 p.m. that U.S. 60 was closed from mile marker 365 (east of Melrose) to mile marker 381 (Cannon AFB exit), due to multiple crashes. Other closures reported included NM 209 from Grady to Tucumcari), NM 268 and NM 469 from Grady to San Jon.
Another system is set to enter the area late Thursday and spill more snow, but Monday and Tuesday should be the worst weather the area gets for the week.
“Tuesday should see diminishing winds, and diminishing precipitation as well,” said Annette Mokry, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “It may start out a little (messy), but there should be some improvement throughout the day.”
Mokry said Wednesday will be the area’s best day, with highs in the mid- to upper 40s, before dropping 5 to 10 degrees Thursday with winds around 20 mph to 30 mph and possible gusts of up to 40 mph out of the north.
No precipitation is expected for Saturday and Sunday, but Mokry said there’s a slight chance it will be cold enough for snowfall that accumulates from Friday to stick around for the holidays.
Portales Public Works Director John DeSha said the plan is to use a salting truck on high-traffic areas and then use a bladed road grader if the snow keeps up over the next few days.
Clovis Public Works Director Clint Bunch said any equipment that wasn’t already on the roads was fully prepped and would see some usage.
“We’ll plow what we can on entire roads,” Bunch said, “and we’ll be salting and sanding intersection.”
Bunch advised residents to stay home if possible and avoid minor errands that could wait until the storm passed 24 hours later — especially during the evening, when he expected ice to form on the roads.
“It’s a pretty big concern, as much moisture as we have,” Bunch said.
Wes Reeves, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, said there was nothing widespread, though there was a brief outage around 2:20 p.m. that affected 508 customers.
“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of blinks,” Reeves said. “As the wind picks up, there are probably wind faults.”
Portales Schools Superintendent Randy Fowler said there wasn’t much snow on the ground in Portales on Monday afternoon, and he hoped weather would be good enough for the final day of the semester on today.
“I’m assuming we’ll probably have a delay of some kind, but we’ll have to wait until the morning,” Fowler said. “We really need to finish up with some semester tests, so we’re going to try to get school in.”
Clovis Schools were already on winter break, but the inclement weather did affect a doubleheader scheduled for today. The girls game against Canyon has been canceled, and the boys varsity game against Rio Rancho was moved to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Clovis High Athletic Director Brian Stacy said.
Clovis Community College shut down early Monday and announced it was closing offices today — essentially creating an early winter break, which was scheduled for Wednesday anyway.
Command at Cannon Air Force Base authorized early release of military and civilian personnel beginning at 3 p.m. Monday and advised staff to check for delayed reporting instructions.
Weather forecasters don’t see the same potential headaches from the Thursday/Friday system.
“The system on Thursday night and Friday will be coming at us from the northwest and won’t be able to tap into the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico moisture like this storm system did,” said Steve Kersh, head meteorologist at KVII in Amarillo. “So, we will just see cloud cover and probably, just snow flurries. If we see any accumulation, it will be in the Clayton area with about an inch or so … if that.”