Blizzard Blankets West Texas Over the Weekend

Some places got upwards of six feet of snow.

By Tom MichaelDecember 28, 2015 9:15 am, , ,

This story originally appeared on Marfa Public Radio.

This weekend, almost all of West Texas received snow. Some places got it worse than others. The blizzard was strongest to the west and to the north. El Paso reported six inches of snow and parts of the Panhandle topped a foot, with snowdrifts at heights taller than most people.

Many West Texans had to scrape their way into their vehicles on Sunday morning. The blizzard, which began in eastern New Mexico, slammed El Paso and the Texas Panhandle. On Saturday afternoon, Joel Guzman of El Paso found that the Sun Bowl, the annual football game, was not so sunny.

“It was cold and drizzly and then the snow started coming down and I was surprised how many people were there and how many people stuck it out,” Guzman said.

Tom Bird is a meteorologist for El Paso and eastern New Mexico. The storm was “one of the better snow storms we’ve had in well over a decade,” he said.

By Sunday morning, the storm had strengthened. “And then in New Mexico,” Bird said, “there’s a whole lot of roads closed. They’re getting 40 to 60 mile per hour winds, with blowing snow. They’ve got drifts up to 6 feet high.”

The blizzard was severe in the western corner of the state, and also in the Panhandle. Eric Ahasic is a meteorologist in Midland. “Amarillo, they’ve had quite a good amount of snow up there, so the winds are blowing 50 miles per hour,” he said. “So it’s just a total blizzard up there.”

Wind gusts are nothing new in Lubbock, as Larry Simmons said, but this wind was cold and snowy. “Now we do have wind. You know Lubbock has wind,” Simmons said. “You know we have wind all the time up here. And we did have some pretty good wind.”

Lubbock resident Joe Edd Waggoner describes how the storm made a dramatic appearance there on Saturday night. “We had a winter thunderstorm,” Waggoner said. “You probably heard of it as ‘ThunderSnow,’ thunderstorm with precipitation as snowfall rather than rainfall. But something about it makes it a little out of the ordinary.”

There were the usual warnings not to travel the roads – even from Gov. Greg Abbott. “The roads across the state of Texas especially north of I-10 remain in a perilous condition,” Abbott said, at a press conference.

But it was the Sunday after Christmas, so many drivers plowed on through. Mary Croyle works at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and lives in Amarillo. She says that road appearances can be deceptive. “Roads don’t look at bad as they might be, but then the snow drifts are everywhere, and people are getting stuck,” she said.

The Big Bend and Permian Basin received snow, but road conditions weren’t as bad as predicted. And Sara Bustilloz, a spokesperson for the City of Midland, said preparation was key.

“Our transportation officials have been keeping very close contact with TxDOT [the Texas Department of Transportation],” Bustilloz. “They filled trucks with brine water a few days ahead of time. We had some salt stockpiled. So, we’ve been watching the weather for well over a week.”

Interstate travelers don’t just have to prepare for the wintry weather, but also for the vastness of West Texas. Randy Rakes sees the odd traveler limp into Dell City now and again.

“Many times we’ve had people come in here late at night when the stations are closed, trying to get gas, because they didn’t realize the distance in this part of Texas,” Rakes said.

As conditions deteriorated, TxDOT closed many roads in the Panhandle on Sunday night.