Winter Weather Awareness


During the winter season, it is important to keep up with the latest forecasts and warnings.  In these pages devoted to winter weather, we review winter safety information (in English and Spanish), describe the products used to convey winter threats, discuss the various types of precipitation that occur in the cold season, and present the climatology of various snow amounts for several locations across New Mexico.

The complex terrain of New Mexico, ranging from the eastern plains, high mountains across the northern and western regions, to the Rio Grande Valley, combines to create weather regimes that change quickly over relatively short distances. Highway travelers may find themselves first in light snow or rain then suddenly in heavy snow as the highway climbs through a mountain pass. The weather may be relatively mild and sunny along the Rio Grande valley from Socorro to Albuquerque, with near blizzard conditions found across the high plains east of the central mountain chain. Winter weather can be deadly if you fail to take proper precautions. Be sure to check out the information available on our web site to become familiar with winter weather safety facts, products, and climate.


How do the various forms of winter precipitation develop when when temperatures at or above the surface dip below freezing?

Snow

Sleet

Freezing Rain

  • Flurries: Light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or light dusting is all that is expected.
    • Showers: Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.
    • Squalls: Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant.
    • Blowing Snow: Wind driven-snow that reduces visibility and causes significant drifting. Blowing snow may be snow that is falling and/or loose snow on the
      ground that is picked up by the wind.
    • Blizzard: Winds over 35 mph with snow and blowing snow reducing visibility to near zero.
  • Rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorist.
  • Rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing. This causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars, and roads, forming a coating or glaze of ice. Even small accumulations of ice can cause a significant hazard.

Why should I worry about winter weather?
Changes in elevation can be subtle or dramatic, but often a slight increase in elevation can mean big changes in travel and trail conditions. The weather may be tranquil in the valley areas, while motorists are being stranded in areas like Clines Corners, Tijeras Canyon, the Continental Divide, Raton Pass, or near Ruidoso. On the less traveled highways, there are numerous and often remote spots where motorists may become stranded. Use the 511 phone number and internet traveler information service provided by the New Mexico Department of Transportation for weather-related road conditions and road closures.


Photo by Paula Valentine

Who suffers most?
  • Everyone is potentially at risk during winter storms, but statistics show that males and the elderly suffer death and injury most frequently, whether it is accidents related to ice and snow or exposure to the cold.
    • Sudden weather changes also threaten the unprepared hiker, hunter, or cross country skier. You might find yourself in mild and sunny weather at the start of your outdoor adventure then face falling temperatures, wind chill, and cold rain or snow as a storm front moves in quickly.

    • Tragically, alcohol is related to many winter weather deaths and injuries each year in New Mexico due to prolonged exposure to the cold.

    • Prolonged outbreaks of cold weather, especially following heavy snows and ice storms, can create risks at home if utility service is lost or conditions prevent travel for medical care and food. Alternative heat sources may become deadly without fire safeguards or proper ventilation.
hat rules or winter weather skills will help keep me safe?
  • Be prepared. Take action before the first winter storm to winterize automobiles and prepare emergency survival kits. At home, stock up on food, fuels, first-aid an medical items and other supplies such as batteries for flashlights and radios. Don’t forget to check fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.

    • Keep up with the latest forecasts and statements from the National Weather Service. Always check the latest forecast before going into mountain areas and don’t leave that radio or portable TV behind which could provide weather forecast updates.


Photo by Seth Bullinton

  • If possible, avoid travel during winter storms. If you must travel immediately before or during a storm, try not to travel alone. Let someone know your travel schedule and routes. If stranded while traveling, it is best to stay with your vehicle. You can be more at risk trying to walk through the storm for help. In some instances, New Mexicans have died trying to go less than 1/2 mile for help. Make your vehicle as visible as possible for easier rescue.  You can periodically run the motor for short periods each hour, but remember to allow fresh air and ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.  When hiking, hunting, skiing, or if your job takes you into mountainous areas, know the weather forecast! Take along extra clothes, food or supplies that could save your life.  If stranded overnight, learn survival techniques for shelter and fire making. A fire will provide heat and can attract attention. Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat. melt snow for drinking water. Do not eat snow! It will lower the body temperature. Eat and drink sufficient amounts of water. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Keep the body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration.

    Remember, be prepared in advanced and ready to handle sudden changes during any wintertime travel or outdoor activity.

Around the Home
  • Keep ahead of advancing winter weather by listening to NOAA Weather Radio. 

    • A powerful winter storm will take down power lines knocking out electricity. Check battery powered equipment before the storm arrives.
    • Check your food and stock an extra supply. Include food that requires no cooking in case of power failure. If there are infants or people who need special medication at home, make sure you have a supply of the proper food and medicine. Make sure pets and animals have shelter and a water supply.

Photo by Neal Pederson

  • If appropriate, check your supply of propane. Fuel carriers may not be able to reach you due to closed roads.
  • Be careful when using fireplace, stoves, or space heaters. Proper ventilation is essential to avoid a deadly build-up of carbon monoxide. Don’t use charcoal inside as it gives off large amounts of carbon monoxide. Keep flammable material away from space heaters and do not overload electric circuits. Close off any unneeded rooms in the house. Stuff towels or rags under doors. Cover windows at night.

  • Dress for the conditions when outdoors. Wear several layers of light-weight, warm clothing: Layers can be removed to prevent overheating, perspiring and subsequent chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven, waterproof and hooded. For the hands, mittens, snub at the wrists, offer better protection than fingered gloves.

  • Don’t kill yourself shoveling snow. It is extremely hard work for anyone in less than prime physical condition. It can bring on a heart attack, a major cause of death during and after winter storms.
Automobiles
  • Your automobile can be your best friend or worst enemy during winter storms. Get your car winterized before winter arrives. The following items should be checked; ignition system, cooling system, fuel system, battery, lights, tires, heater, brakes, wipers, defroster, oil and exhaust. Keep water out of your fuel tank by keeping it full. 

    • If you travel often during winter, carry a winter storm kit in you car. It should include flashlight, windshield scraper, paper towels, extra clothes, matches/candles, booster cables, compass, maps, sand, chains, blankets and high calorie non-perishable food. 

    • Winter travel by car is serious business. If the storm exceeds or tests your driving ability, seek available shelter immediately. If unable to find shelter, stay in your vehicle. Run the motor ten minutes each hour to maintain warmth, but keep your windows open a little to prevent buildup of carbon monoxide. Make sure your exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow. keep the car visible with brightly colored cloth tied to the antenna. Exercise periodically in your car by vigorously moving your arms, legs, toes and fingers.
  • Plan your travel. Try not to travel alone and drive in convoy when possible.

  • Drive carefully and defensively. Pump your breaks when trying to stop on snow or ice covered roads. Roads which may appear clear in the wintertime may actually be coated with a thin layer of ice, commonly called black ice. This thin layer of can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Reduce your speed if you detect black.

     

 

Photo by Brent Wachter

Winter Safety for Schools
  • Children can be especially susceptible to the dangers associated with winter weather. Their youthful enthusiasm often takes over when common sense should prevail.

    • School administrators and principals need to be sensitive to the dangers winter weather can pose to children and be prepared. Winter weather procedures and practices need to be established before the onset of winter cold. The following items should be considered when formulating a winter weather safety plan:

    •  All schools should have ready access to current weather information. If the school is in a county covered by NOAA Weather Radio, that would be the best source. Commercial media can also be monitored. Arrangements can also be made with local law enforcement agencies to have critical winter weather forecasts relayed to the school.

    • All schools need to have a functional plan in regard to closures due to snow, ice, or extreme cold.
    • During the winter months, guidelines need to be established regarding outside recess. Temperatures and wind chills need to be monitored and criteria set as to when outside recess will be allowed.

    • School bus drivers should receive extra training on driving during winter weather. Snow and ice can often accumulate quickly and unexpectedly on roads creating dangerous driving conditions.

    • With many households having two working parents today, it may be necessary for some children to be brought to school early. Schools should make provisions to allow children inside school buildings as early as possible during cold weather.

The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Albuquerque issues winter weather products with a “Ready-Set-Go” concept. The “Ready” stage is anywhere from 24 to 72 hours before the impending weather event. During this stage, forecasters may highlight expected adverse winter weather conditions.

 
Winter Storm Watch: A watch is issued to give advance notice when a significant winter storm may affect your area within 12 to 48 hours.  This would include any combination of significant snow or sleet accumulation, significant ice accretion, strong winds, extreme cold, low wind chills, or low visibilities in snow or blowing snow. A winter storm watch is issued when there is at least a 50/50 chance that warning criteria will be met.  Usually the winter storm watch will be upgraded to a warning when the nature and location of the weather event become more apparent. In any case, when a watch is issued for your area, it is time to prepare for severe winter weather.
 
Winter Weather Advisory: When a combination of snow, blowing snow, sleet, freezing rain or freezing drizzle is expected to cause localized disruption of travel and result in a significant inconvenience, a winter weather advisory will be issued.  A winter weather advisory can address multiple winter weather hazards.
 
Winter Storm Warning: When conditions that can quickly become life threatening and are more serious than an inconvenience are  imminent or already occurring, a winter storm warning will be issued.  Heavy snows, or a combination of snow, freezing rain or extreme wind chill due to strong wind, may bring widespread or lengthy road closures and hazardous travel conditions, plus threaten temporary loss of community services such as power and water. Deep snow and additional strong wind chill or frostbite may be a threat to even the well dressed individual or to even the strongest person exposed to the frigid weather for only a short period.


Photo by David Thornburg

 Other winter weather products: Blizzard Warning: The most dangerous of all winter storms is the blizzard. In New Mexico,  the northeast highlands and northeast plains are the most blizzard-prone areas where the deadly combination of fierce winds and snow can reduce visibility to near zero and create wind chills well below zero. A blizzard warning is issued when winds of 35 miles an hour will occur in combination with considerable falling and/or blowing snow for at least 3 hours. Visibilities will frequently be reduced to less than 1/4 mile and temperatures are usually 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Ice Storm Warning: A dangerous coating of ice, usually 1/4 inch or more. Ice storms are rare if not unheard of west of the Rio Grande Valley.  However, across eastern New Mexico  a mixture of freezing drizzle,  freezing rain and light snow is not uncommon whenever arctic air masses invade the plains.  In most cases, ice accumulations are less than 1/4 inch and a winter weather advisory is issued.


Photo by Ginger Brick

 Wind Chill Warning: Issued when the wind chill temperatures at or colder than minus 50 degrees F.  At this level, frostbite can occur on exposed flesh within minutes.   As the wind chill temperature drops, the frostbite time decreases, especially with higher wind speeds. Note: Strong winds, usually blowing from the northwest or north, often develop in the wake of winter storms that cross New Mexico.  This is especially true along the east slopes of the Central Mountain Chain and high plains of central and northeast New Mexico. These strong and gusty winds can persist hours after the precipitation has ended creating areas of reduced visibilities in blowing snow. Now that we’ve covered all of the details, the important thing to understand about watches, warnings, and advisories, is that:

  • a WATCH means it’s time to get ready,
  • an ADVISORY means inconvenience,
  • and a WARNING means the situation is life-threatening.

How much snow can we expect at sites in New Mexico in an average year? Frequency of Snow Events Across New Mexico

 

> 1 inch snow in the last:

> 2 inches snow in the last:

> 3 inches snow in the last:

> 4 inches snow in the last:

Location

10 years

20 years

30 years

10 years

20 years

30 years

10 years

20 years

30 years

10 years

20 years

30 years

ABQ Sunport

16

46

83

8

24

44

6

11

17

5

6

11

ABQ Foothills

78

NA

NA

36

NA

NA

20

NA

NA

9

NA

NA

ABQ Valley

15

NA

NA

9

NA

NA

8

NA

NA

5

NA

NA

Chama

206

408

651

145

286

464

94

196

320

58

135

220

Deming

2

9

19

2

6

14

0

1

6

0

1

5

Tucumcari

56

96

147

33

54

85

19

34

52

13

25

35

Clovis

29

61

98

18

35

63

11

21

39

9

15

21

Roswell

18

32

71

11

18

44

9

13

26

6

8

14

Hobbs

0

7

31

0

3

21

0

1

17

0

0

9

Des Moines

118

NA

NA

69

NA

NA

39

NA

NA

32

NA

NA

Ruidoso

72

117

178

51

85

127

33

53

85

21

34

54

 

Information provided by Kerry Jones from the Albq National Weather Service and

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/abq/?n=prepwinterwxawareness

I’m on vacation this week so all blog posts this week come to us courtesy of Ken Oswald

Safety and Security Manager for Plateau

koswald@plateautel.com