Gripped by an arctic cold that hasn’t been felt in the area in as much as 20 years, Curry and Roosevelt Counties aren’t expected to warm up until the weekend.
A winter storm blew into the area Monday night, dusting Clovis with about an inch of snow and leaving trace amounts in Portales.
Though the possibility of another inch by the end of Wednesday exists, it will be the cold temperatures, not the snow that makes this storm significant, according to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
The weather service is predicting night-time lows of 1 to 4 below zero in Clovis and Portales, and day-time highs of about 12 through Thursday. But conditions are expected to be even colder with the effect of wind chill.
The last time the area saw temperatures close to those expected through Thursday was in December 1990 when Clovis dipped to 5 below zero and in December 2005 when Portales experienced a low of 4 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
By Tuesday afternoon, Portales schools were planning a two-hour delay and Clovis schools, Clovis Christian School and Clovis Community College had already canceled classes for Wednesday.
“We want to ensure that our kids are safe,” Clovis Municipal Schools’ Jelayne Curtis said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think we anticipate that the roads will get much worse, (but) we are concerned about the extreme overnight temperatures.”
Tuesday morning Clovis schools opened on time but Texico, Farwell, Friona and Portales students were delayed 2 hours and Melrose, San Jon, Tucumcari and House canceled classes.
Winds between 15 and 25 are expected to drive the night-time temperatures to 23 degrees below zero because of wind chill calculations, according to meteorologist Amanda Abeyta.
Wind-chill is a method weather experts use to calculate the impact of wind speeds and temperatures to determine how cold conditions are for humans.
“Obviously with the wind chill and everything frost bite can occur very rapidly,” Abeyta said. “If you have to be out, just be very careful.”
The storm, which is gripping much of the nation with 30 states under some form of winter watch or advisory, is an arctic system only seen every 10 to 20 years, Abeyta said.
“This is a pretty big system with two lows, so it’s kind of like a one-two punch,” Abeyta said.
“These types of events do occur, just not very often thankfully.”
Lighthouse Mission Director Richard Gomez said hats and gloves were distributed to those in need during a Tuesday morning breakfast at the mission and several families without heat had been given blankets and other things to keep warm throughout the day.
The shelter, the only of its kind in a 100-mile radius of Clovis, serves people throughout the region, offering food, clothing and shelter free of charge.
Gomez said the shelter was already full before the storm, predominately by women and children who have been displaced by the housing market.
But Monday night he said he was down to only floor-space after three men who had been living outside came seeking shelter from the cold.
“We’ve got extra mattresses in case we get more people. We’ll never deny anybody a place to sleep, especially in this cold weather,” Gomez said. “We’ve got floor space (and) I’ve still got my couch at my house.”
Gomez said anyone who is without shelter can seek refuge at the mission, and if it’s after hours, local law enforcement agencies can help people access resources.
This time of year, especially with the current conditions, Gomez the mission can always use items —socks, gloves, hats, blankets and other things — to help people stay warm.
Eastern New Mexico United Way Director Erinn Burch said with recent warm temperatures, there are many families in the area who have been able to get by without heat by using cook stoves and other alternative heat sources but the cold blast put them in a bad situation.
“It really pushes people to take care of a problem that they’ve had for a while,” she said. “They’ve been getting by (but now) people reach out because they’ve got to.”
Since Monday, Burch estimated United Way had distributed just shy of 10 heaters through a referral program it oversees.
Frozen pipes are another side effect of extreme cold that had plumber Landon Duffield busy Tuesday.
With around four frozen pipe and multiple furnace service calls already behind him, Duffield said he expected to stay busy over coming days.
“I haven’t seen it stay this cold in while,” he said. “We will definitely be busy. There will be a lot (of pipes) freezing tonight.”
Furnaces working extra hard to meet demand often fail during extreme weather, he said, and exposed pipes freeze, sometimes bursting.
Duffield recommended people run their furnaces non-stop, open cabinets under sinks to expose the pipes to heat, allow sinks to drip and cover outside faucets and exposed pipes where possible to help prevent freezing.
He said those with private wells should place heaters or heat lamps in well houses to just a little heat to take the edge off the cold and prevent freezing.
Overall this year, due to a La Nina pattern, Abeyta said it’s been predominately a “timid” winter with dry and unusually warm weather.
By Friday, Abeyta said temperatures will go up into the mid-40’s and by the weekend the mid-50’s.