The spring storm that blanketed the city in more than half a foot of heavy, wet snow Saturday morning — causing highway closures and power outages, a couple of minor crashes and falling tree limbs — also was the biggest snowstorm of the 2016-17 season, a meteorologist said.
“It might be safe to say this is the largest late-season storm we’ve ever seen,” said Clay Anderson of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, adding that the whirlwind storm was fairly widespread, dumping snow all across Central and Eastern New Mexico.
Snowfall reports for the Santa Fe area ranged from 5 to 8 inches by late morning, as flurries were still coming down. That compares with just 3.2 inches that fell during the season’s second-largest storm Jan. 16. “We’re talking easily double,” Anderson said.
It was hard to imagine — even well after noon Saturday, as downtown tourists were huddled under umbrellas and portals, trying to stay dry while they ventured out to see the sights — that the piles of snow would be short-lived. But temperatures warmed, the flurries stopped and traces of snow were diminishing just hours later. Anderson said Sunday is expected to bring sunshine and highs in the mid-50s.
That was welcome news for Kate Sullivan of Washington, D.C., and Allyn Stone of Los Angeles, two longtime friends who were spending a long weekend together in Santa Fe. “I think it’s 90 degrees in both places,” Sullivan said.
She wasn’t exaggerating. The high in Washington was 90 degrees Saturday, and Los Angeles saw temperatures rise to 85.
“We’re powering through,” Stone said.
The women said one highlight of their day was a trip to the Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard, which attracted a surprising number of growers and shoppers, undeterred by the storm. Meanwhile, kids outside the Farmers Market Pavilion took advantage of a rare opportunity for a late-April snowball fight.
A large crowd of children and adults also braved the weather to run in Wood Gormley Elementary School’s annual 5K Panther Run, a fundraising event. The race, which usually goes from the South Capitol-area school to Museum Hill and back, had to be run on a modified course because of safety concerns.
The heavy snow and hard freeze forecast overnight were a blow for fruit crops and overzealous gardeners who thought it was safe to plant before the recommended date of May 15. The weight of the snow also led to downed trees and broken limbs throughout the city. But the moisture came with a twofold blessing for the state, Anderson said: Shortening the fire season and staving off drought.
The fire season in New Mexico generally runs from May to the start of the monsoon season in July or August. “An event like this kind of puts the brakes on it,” Anderson said. “We kind of clawed our way completely out of drought” about six months ago, he added, but some areas of the state then began to slip back into dry conditions.
April snowstorms are not unusual for Northern New Mexico, which occasionally sees flurries in early May, he said. But the likelihood of such storms declines as the month wears on, and most spring storms bring just a dusting. In 2006, for instance, an April 29 storm left a half-inch of snow on the ground.
The latest snowfall on record in Santa Fe was May 7, 1969, Anderson said, but several years worth of data are missing from the agency’s records.
With the storm hitting on a weekend morning when there was no rush-hour traffic, Santa Fe police Lt. Adam Gallegos said, there were no serious crashes in the city. “We just urge everyone to use caution,” he said.
According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s road condition website, nmroads.com, N.M. 502 to Los Alamos was closed early in the day, and U.S. 64 and Interstate 25 were both closed in the Raton area Saturday afternoon.
The site also reported a multiple-vehicle crash on I-25 at the N.M. 599 exit Saturday morning that was causing delays.
New Mexico State Police Sgt. Chad Pierce said some roads were temporarily closed in the Las Vegas and Alamogordo areas while snowplows cleared travel lanes. “It is a very busy day for us due to the [inclement] weather the state is experiencing,” Pierce said in an email. But he said he wasn’t aware of any serious crashes or fatalities.
Shannon Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, said crews responded to a couple of small outages throughout the day in the city, as well as a larger outage in southwestern Santa Fe that affected more than 1,400 customers for about four hours.
That outage, which occurred at about 8:30 a.m., was caused by downed power line, she said. Power to most customers in the area was restored by noon.
Contact Cynthia Miller at 505-986-3095 or email@example.com.