By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
Life started returning to normal across eastern New Mexico Friday as residents began digging out from a vicious winter storm that shut down travel, schools and most commerce for almost two days.
The storm that developed overnight Wednesday was the biggest snow the area has seen this year, dumping anywhere from 6 to 10 inches across the high plains.
Clovis and Portales recorded about 6 inches, while northern communities such as Grady and Broadview were closer to 10 inches, according to Albuquerque Meteorologist Daniel Porter.
Porter said heavier snow bands formed in the north, leaving residents with deeper snowfall towards northern Curry and into Quay counties.
The storm started with freezing rain and sleet Wednesday evening. By Thursday morning, blowing and drifting snow made for treacherous driving conditions and shut down whole communities.
Porter said this and other snow storms the region has seen this year are characteristic of an El Nino year, which typically brings with it increased moisture in the winter and spring months.
Today is expected to start the most significant melting, with temperatures rising near the low 40’s and reaching almost 50 by Sunday, Porter said.
Porter said this week could bring another storm system — albeit warmer and bearing rain — as early as Tuesday night.
Thursday’s storm practically crippled the area, causing school and work cancellations through Friday.
Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said during the 48-hour period his agency responded to, “steady flow of weather related calls ranging from traffic hazards to motor vehicle crashes to conducting welfare checks on rural residents.”
Friday morning, Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders cautioned drivers against trying to drive icy and snow-packed streets, asking them to, “Just stay home one more day — It’s a good Friday to stay at home.”
“They’re extremely snow packed and icy,” he said. “It’s just as dangerous today as it was yesterday.”
But by mid-day traffic on Clovis streets had nearly resumed normal levels as people returned to work and other activities.
“All you can do is ask (people to stay in),” Sanders said Friday afternoon. He cautioned that as the sun falls and temperatures drop in coming days the moisture will refreeze and drivers need to take extra care.
“(People) need to give themselves plenty of stopping distance,” he said. “It’s not the starting that’s the problem, its the stopping.”
Police spent much of their time assisting stranded motorists who found themselves stuck in ditches and snow banks during and after the storm.
Duane Fuller, vice president and tired tow truck driver for American Auto Salvage & Towing in Clovis, spent Thursday and Friday pulling 40 motorists’ vehicles out of ditches, barrow pits, snow drifts and driveways.
On Thursday Fuller finished his last of 18 tows about 2 a.m., and his phone started ringing an hour later. Fuller said the icy, snowy dens contained a lot of SUVs and all-wheel drive vehicles too.
Amber Workheiser said she is looking forward to the coming thaw so she can catch up on some much needed sleep.
Workheiser and her husband, Kenneth, own Trans-Matic Wrecker Service in Clovis. She said they have been working around the clock to pull stuck vehicles out of ditches.
Friday, Workheiser said there was a four to six-hour wait time for tow service as they worked to catch up on calls.
During the peak of the storm, she said drivers were only towing vehicles creating a hazard by blocking roadways.
“We’d ask them if they were off of the road and if they said yes, we told them ‘good, find a ride home’,” she said.
She said the took almost 30 calls ranging, one almost to Fort Sumner.
“Every snowfall people just don’t stay home when they should,” she said. “All week we’ve been warned this system was coming, people had time to prepare.
“It will be nice when it starts thawing and we can get some sleep.”
The storm also brought out several good Samaritans, who helped move stuck motorists and were pitching in with digging people out Friday.
Portales plumber Matt Brady said he used his backhoe to clear the driveways of several of his elderly neighbors while his 13-year-old son, Clay, shoveled and swept their sidewalks.
Chuckling, he said he cleared his own driveway then did the others because, “I didn’t want the other neighbors to get jealous.”
Brady said he noticed many yards were drifted over with deep snow and it was obvious they hadn’t been out in a couple of days.
And in Clovis, Jerry Rogers said he saw Brandon Jackson using his tractor to clear driveways in his north Clovis neighborhood and asked him to clear his, paying him for the help.
“We gave him a little gratitude,” he said. “It’s wonderful to have something like that done in a matter of 15 minutes instead of a three-hour ordeal with an achy back and all that goes along with that.”