December 29th, 2006 Winter Storm

Heavy Snow and Ice Storm Hits the Panhandles

On Friday December, 29th a major winter storm brought heavy snow and ice to the panhandles through Saturday the 30th. The winter weather was caused by a strong upper level low pressure system that moved across south central New Mexico toward the southern plains. When initially diagnosing this system, it seemed evident that heavy snow would be the primary threat. However, the low pressure system began to move much slower than anticipated on Friday the 29th. The slower movement allowed dry air to be pulled into the eastern portion of the low directly over most of the panhandles. When this dry air in the upper atmosphere moved over the moist air near the surface, freezing drizzle or light freezing rain began to form instead of snow. This resulted because there was no moisture in the area of the atmosphere called "the snow growth zone". Essentially, the snow growth zone is the portion of the atmosphere where snow flakes are formed. So when that region is dry, then no snow flakes will be generated. In this particular case, the lack of snow flakes combined with the moist air near the surface caused the atmosphere to produce freezing drizzle, freezing fog, and light freezing rain instead of heavy snow. Below are a few pictures taken near the National Weather Service office in Amarillo on Sunday morning December, 31st. A light snow shower moved over the Amarillo area the previous night (Saturday the 30th) as the upper level low pressure system moved east across the panhandles. The result was a beautiful canvas of ice and snow which made for great photography but very sick and dangerous driving conditions.

The western panhandles, specifically Dallam, Hartley and Cimarron counties, turned over to snow on Friday because the dry air within the low pressure system did not reach this area. The snow fell from Friday afternoon into Saturday with reports of up to 18 inches of snow accumulation. However, there were unofficial reports that 3 to 4 feet of snow accumulation occurred in the western portion of Cimarron County. It is safe to say that 2 to 3 feet of snow impacted this area. The last 6 pictures were courtesy of the KVII Weather Department who received the photos from a resident near Dalhart Texas.

There were many impacts of this system not least of which was multiple road closures. Interstate 40 was closed between Amarillo and Albuquerque, every highway/roads in north east New Mexico was closed, and most of the highways/roads were closed in areas north of Dalhart Texas including Cimarron County. The icy and snow packed road conditions in other areas made for very dangerous driving conditions lead to multiple accidents and unfortunately a few fatalities. Emergency crews were called upon to dig out and rescue more than 20 families in Cimarron county where snow drifts buried many homes.

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