A winter storm blew into the El Paso region Monday, dropping snow and temperatures, which are expected to barely crawl above freezing today. Snow, ice and slippery conditions shut down roads and highways from El Paso to Albuquerque as the cold system moved south, bringing freezing temperatures and causing havoc to a region more accustomed to sunshine than snowfall. Snow began falling in Las Cruces on Monday morning and it reached El Paso by the afternoon. After nightfall, El Paso's streets were awash with dozens of traffic accidents due to slick roads. The National Weather Service in Santa Teresa forecast that El Paso might receive 3 to 5 inches of snow accumulation overnight.
Temperatures are expected to fall to 23 degrees this morning and rise to between 32 and 35 during the day. Tonight, the temperature is expected to drop to as low as 15 degrees, the National Weather Service reported. By early Monday night, Alamogordo had received 5 inches of snow, Deming 2 inches and more than 3 inches had fallen north of Las Cruces, meteorologist Tim Brice said. "Snow should be tapering off by (today) but it will be cold during the day and the high will be right around freezing," he said. Icy roads caused hazardous driving in El Paso with cars spinning out of control and crashing into guard rails, vehicles sliding on frozen highway bridges and at least one pickup rolling over. The number of people injured was unknown.
El Paso police and rescue crews were dealing with more than 45 accidents by early Monday night due to snow and icy roads throughout the city. As of 7:35 p.m., police had 18 reported accidents in the Northeast, 14 in the Central area, 11 in the Pebble Hills region, three in the Mission Valley and none on the West Side, said police spokesman Detective Mike Baranyay. The reports did not include calls about traffic hazards such as icy roads. Police urged motorists to stay off the streets if they didn't have to travel. New Mexico State Police on Monday afternoon closed Interstate 10 in New Mexico, and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office on Monday night shuttered I-10 between Horizon Boulevard and Hudspeth County. With the first winter blast of the season expected, officials are prepared for different scenarios. For several months, El Paso Water Utilities has been prepping its equipment for freezing temperatures, which arrived this week. In a news release, EPWU announced that it has repaired any damage left behind by February's freeze, which severely crippled the city when water and electric facilities froze. The company has also installed insulated boxes around key instruments at water tanks throughout the city. These boxes should prevent the crucial instruments from freezing when the temperature drops. The water utility and El Paso Electric have re-prioritized key water facilities. In the event that power is short, the power will not be cut off to the most crucial stations.
As for area school districts, the El Paso, Ysleta, Clint, San Elizario and Anthony school districts will be on a two-hour delay for the start of classes this morning. Each district has a different plan for determining how safe it is to drive to school and how to get information out. They all have reported that there is a plan in place. Students and parents will be notified about any closures or late starts through the districts' website, media or automated calling machines. In some cases, all three will be used. In Fabens, Superintendent Poncho Garcia said the safety of the district's students and staff is the concern. "Being out here in the county, one of our top concerns is I-10 because most of our teachers are from El Paso," Garcia said. "I personally get in my vehicle and do a test run about 4:30 a.m. I then call the school board president and we make a decision." In the event that school goes on, either with a delayed start or on time, precautions are taken at every school, Garcia said. "We start the heaters two or three hours earlier than we usually do," Garcia said. "Maintenance has a plan to shut down several pipes that won't interfere with education purposes. That is done to prevent the possibility of pipes bursting."
Safety for El Paso's homeless is a concern for the city. A man was found dead Monday in Downtown El Paso, possibly from Sunday night's cold weather. Around 5:30 a.m., the El Paso Fire Department discovered the body of a 70-year-old man at the intersection of Father Rahm and South Mesa streets, officials said. The medical examiner is still determining the exact cause of his death. In a news release, the Fire Department said blankets can be donated to the Extreme Weather Task Force at any local fire station or by calling 2-1-1 for more information. The Salvation Army's overnight shelter, 4300 E. Paisano, is also an option for people needing a place to stay warm. It can hold up to 100 people more than its regular capacity. During the day, the Office of Emergency Management has recommended that museums and libraries be used for warmth during business hours. If temperatures drop below 20 degrees, the city of El Paso's Environmental Services Department has said that recycling will not be picked up. Residents should not take their blue recycling bins out to the curb if temperatures drop that low, the department said.