"Wow, what a storm": NM winter storm intensity surprises forecasters, residents

Dec 17, 2010

Albuquerque, NM – Yesterday's winter storm caught many people in northern and central New Mexico off guard. Heavy snow fell from Rio Rancho to Santa Fe and Los Alamos all the way up to Taos. Santa Fe saw a foot of snow in places. I-25 east of Santa Fe, and I-40 east of Albuquerque were both closed for a time and are still icy in those areas. Though forecasters had predicted a strong storm and were accurate on the timing and impact of it on the roads, even they were a bit surprised by its severity...and for good reason. KUNM's Jim Williams reports.

Williams: The "forecast discussion" on the National Weather Service web site this morning began with the phrase "wow what a storm," which for anyone who has ever read the wonkish reports, is akin to a scientist running outside the lab to shout to anyone who will listen. It was a chance occurrence in an otherwise dry La Nina fall: a cold front pushed westward through the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia Mountains faster and farther than expected. It then sat along the Jemez and Gila Mountains, and a heavy band of moisture set up from Grants through Rio Rancho up to Santa Fe. David Craft is a forecaster with the National Weather Service

Craft: I'd say it's one of the harder parts of the state to forecast snow for because of the higher terrain that surrounds the central valley. And you've gotta get cold air into the valley. And you know oftentimes when the storms are crossing the temperature's right around 32 degrees, it could be a little warmer or a little colder, and just a degree or two of difference could make the difference between, you know, whether you get accumulating snow or not.

Williams: Rio Rancho saw 5 inches in places, while nearly 20 inches fell on Sandia Crest. But Craft says don't expect this wet pattern to continue. After another spotty shot of light snow for some of northern New Mexico on Saturday, things should dry out and warm up again, as winter arrives next week with La Nina still in charge.