A series of heavy snow events produced totals of 15 to 30 inches across eastern and central New Mexico just before Christmas. Periods of light snow actually began about the 20th and then intensified during the 22nd through the 25th as tropical moisture began to feed a large, nearly stationary upper level low over southwest New Mexico.
Heaviest snow was centered over Chaves, Lincoln, De Baca, Guadalupe, San Miguel, Quay,and Torrance Counties. Roswell and Chaves County were especially hard hit where heavy wet snow pulled down power lines, trees, numerous small sheds, plus porch and driveway coverings.
Numerous roads and highways across eastern New Mexico including sections of Interstate 40 between Albuquerque and Santa Rosa were closed, stranding hundreds of Christmas travelers.
Vaughn, population 300, swelled to nearly 3000 people at one point with travelers forced into nearly all available shelter and private homes. Road clearing was overwhelmed by the widespread, deep snow and the steady winds that followed between the 26th and the 31st producing drifts as high as 6 to 10 feet.
Some ranching areas north of Roswell to Fort Sumner and west into Torrance and Lincoln counties saw road closures that lasted 10 to 14 days into January.
Ranchers were unable to feed, water stranded herds throughout the period, and eventually relief efforts included airdrops of nearly 400 tons of hay. Livestock losses were finally confirmed at near 10,000 sheep and cattle, including 3,000 yearling dairy animals which piled up against each other and suffocated during the height of the storm on the 23rd and 24th at a stock yard near Dexter in Chaves County.
Direct losses were estimated at about $6.5 million, but indirect costs for clearing and repairing roads and highways reached as high as $20 million.
Winds gusting 60-70 mph were also reported across eastern Albuquerque on the 19th and the 22nd as the upper level storm brought strong east winds over the top of the nearby Sandia and Manzano Mountains. One 69-year-old man died from exposure in eastern Bernalillo County after he left his vehicle, which had become stuck in a snowdrift.
The first of three upper level storms to hit New Mexico within one week started snowing in Eddy County before dawn. By the end of the storm, the northern two thirds of Eddy County had four inches or more of snow. The extreme northern portions of the county were hit hardest with Hope receiving nine inches. In Lea County, the heavy snows were mainly confined to the northern third of the county. In southeastern Lea County, the precipitation was intense, but was mainly in the form of rain.
Motorists were stranded in their vehicles near Queen in the Lincoln National Forest along Highway 137 and were rescued by the Sheriffs Deputies.
The second in the series of storm systems dumped heavy snow two days after storm #1. This system was characterized by very strong lift in a deformation zone northeast of the center of upper level low pressure. The actual passage of the upper low was relatively quiet with only some flurries in the mountains as the lift stayed ahead of the upper low to the northeast.
Heaviest snows were in Eddy County with Hope again leading the way with 10 inches and Lakewood with 8 inches. Four to six inches of snow were common around much of the county. U.S. Highway 285 north of Artesia and U.S. Highway 82 west of Artesia were closed.
Power was knocked out over much of northern Eddy County with the heavy, wet snow bringing down power lines in some instances. Having people isolated without power plus little means to assist these people with county resources, Governor Gary Johnson declared a State of Emergency in Eddy County and other counties north and west. This declaration allowed State of New Mexico assistance in the form of personnel and equipment as well as to coordinate of their implementation. Northern Lea County was again hit harder than the southern end of the county with 4 inches reported at Tatum.
The last in the series of storms systems in one week passed through southeast New Mexico on Christmas Day, dumping 6+ inches of snow over most of Eddy County, and 4+ inches over much of Lea County.
This storm affected the area longer than the previous two events with snow falling in some part of southeast New Mexico for 24 hours.
In northwestern Eddy County, Hope finished the three events with an incredible 29 inches of snow.
Dec 22-25, 1997 Storm Total Snowfall Amounts-
Bitter Lakes Wildlife Refuge 19.0"
Roswell 21.0" (Public Reported 26" In Town)
Lakewood 16.4" (My Home At The Time)
Brantley Dam 17.5"
Carlsbad Caverns Trace
13 West Of Hobbs 2.9"
WIPP Site 1.60" Rain
Cloudcroft 30.5" (20th-25th)
Mountain Park 19"
Corona 28.0" (20th-26th)
De Baca-Roosevelt-Curry Counties-
Fort Sumner 17.5"
5 South Of Fort Sumner 31.0"
Santa Rosa 16.8"
Snowfall Data Is Courtesy Of- The National Climatic Data Center:
The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction!