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Published: Saturday, December 24, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Winter storms snarl holiday traffic and flights

  • Traffic backs up on Friday near Altoona, Wis., as snowy conditions resulted in numerous accidents and delays for holiday travelers.

    Steve Kinderman / Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

    Traffic backs up on Friday near Altoona, Wis., as snowy conditions resulted in numerous accidents and delays for holiday travelers.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Heavy snow from a winter storm blanketed parts of the West on Friday, stranding motorists throughout New Mexico and delaying holiday travelers trying to fly in and out of Albuquerque and Denver.
The snow and high winds struck the region Thursday and forced dozens of drivers off Interstate 40 after severe conditions made driving in western New Mexico nearly impossible.
"If you don't have (four-wheel drive) and you just have two-wheel ... you're either going to spin or stay stuck," stranded motorist Tarquin Wilding told KOAT-TV while in Grants, N.M., on his way to Santa Fe.
Grants and parts of western New Mexico were slammed with more than a foot of snow by Friday morning, the National Weather Service reported. A winter storm warning for the state expired in the afternoon, but meteorologists said the snow wasn't expected to clear up until the weekend.
Some parts of the state saw 17 inches of snow as state and local police responded to dozens of minor accidents.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation closed parts of I-40 around Albuquerque and in eastern New Mexico because of poor driving conditions due to ice and heavy winds. Large portions of I-25 from Truth or Consequences to Las Cruces, and I-10 in western New Mexico also were closed, and authorities were urging motorists to seek shelter in hotels.
Forecasters said sections of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota might get about 1 inch of snow.
In El Paso, Texas, on Friday, a few inches of snow covered roads and yards Friday. Some sections of I-10 in the western part of the state were reduced to one lane as officers responded to a rash of accidents.
"We're seeing a lot of ice on the roads," said El Paso police spokesman Darrel Petry.
Snowfall was forecast for other West Texas cities and the central portion of the state by early today. Houston, the Dallas-Fort Worth area and South Texas were expected to get rain on Christmas Eve.
In Rio Rancho, N.M., Police Officer Charles Ritter turned away motorist after motorist along U.S. 550, telling them that much of northwestern New Mexico had been shuttered by the storm.
"It's for their own safety," he said after one woman pleaded unsuccessfully to get past the roadblock so she could get to her father's home in Colorado.
Jim Hunsaker, a Union Pacific Railroad employee, had even farther to go. He hoped to get home to Salt Lake City, Utah, before Christmas Eve after spending several days working in New Mexico.
"It's mindboggling that they even close these roads. In Utah, this isn't nothing," he said of the conditions Friday. "We travel in conditions like this all the time, so it's kind of frustrating they've got me shut down here."
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, said ranchers near Vaughn, N.M., sheltered a number of stranded travelers Thursday evening after heavy snow made roads in east-central New Mexico impassable. Ranchers also took precautions to protect livestock in rural areas in case snow drifts froze and trapped cattle away from unfrozen water.
In Colorado, operations at the Denver International Airport were getting back to normal after a storm that brought about 10 inches of snow. However, airport officials said passengers flying out Friday would still have deicing delays of about 25 minutes after leaving their gates.
A piece of snow removal equipment also struck a jet parked at a gate, forcing passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles to switch to another plane.
Daniel Jiron, a spokesman for Albuquerque International Sunport, said the airport was seeing fewer delays Friday as conditions improved. "We've had delays here and there but otherwise we're in good shape," he said.
Anchorage, Alaska, got up to 14 inches of snow Friday, but Alaska Airlines, the major carrier at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, only had minor delays.
Story tags » TransportationSnowRainChristmas

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