San Juan County blanketed in snow; more could be coming later this week

Storm leaves school closures, power outages in wake

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The National Weather Service says more moisture could be headed this way on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Snowfall totals from the Jan. 19 storm varied widely across San Juan County.
  • Before this storm, the Four Corners Regional Airport had seen only a half inch of accumulated snow this season.

FARMINGTON — San Juan County and much of the rest of the northern half of New Mexico saw its first significant precipitation in more than a month on Jan. 19, as a snowstorm that began in the early-morning hours lingered into the late afternoon before dissipating.

But the good news for the drought-stricken area is that more moisture could be on the way.

Sharon Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the Jan. 19 storm that left San Juan County under a winter weather advisory for much of that day was expected to head east before backtracking later in the week. That could mean additional precipitation for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the NWS forecast.

By shortly before noon on Jan. 19, the storm had left widely varying snowfall totals across San Juan County. Sullivan said her agency had received reports of a half inch just west of Navajo Dam but 3 inches near Aztec. Reports in the Farmington area varied from a quarter inch to an inch, while a location southwest of Bloomfield saw 4 inches.

The snow was expected to taper off in the late afternoon, finally moving to the east after 5 p.m.

Snow blankets the grounds at Fairview Park in Farmington on Jan. 19, 2021. More moisture could fall in the area over the next several days.

Sullivan said the storm had an impact on motorists in the area, resulting in reports of difficult driving conditions, poor visibility and slick spots. The storm also led to brief power outages throughout the county during the afternoon.

The storm led the Farmington Municipal School District to cancel in-person learning for the day and go to a remote-learning model. The district posted a message on its Facebook page that indicated that there would be no bus service or meal service, and students should not report to schools.

Aztec schools also were conducting classes by virtual learning, but they were offering pick-up meal service at Aztec High School, Lydia Rippey Elementary School, McCoy Elementary School and the First Baptist Church.

Snow coats the tube slide at the Bisti Bay Water Park in Farmington on Jan. 19, 2021.

Officials for the Bloomfield School District announced an early release for their students, as they posted a message on their Facebook page indicating students would be dismissed at 1 p.m. The district's buses were conducting afternoon runs to return students to their homes.

The Central Consolidated School District already had announced plans to remain on a remote-learning model for most of its schools on the Navajo Nation until Jan. 25.

Sullivan said the Jan. 19 snow extended as far south as Gallup and Grants, and even into the Albuquerque area, which also was experiencing relatively high winds.

Some of the higher-elevation areas across northern New Mexico saw even more precipitation. Sullivan said the Angel Fire ski resort was reporting 8 inches of snow overnight, while Ski Santa Fe received 4 inches. She said the heaviest snowfall report had come from Mineral Hill in San Miguel County, which reported 13 inches.

Motorists make their way through the snow on East 20th Street at North Clayton Avenue in Farmington on Jan. 19, 2021.

The storm was having even more of an impact north of New Mexico. Sullivan said her agency had received a report of 5 inches of snow in Durango, Colorado, while an additional 6 to 8 inches of snow were expected Jan. 19 at Wolf Creek Pass in southwest Colorado for a storm total of 12 to 18 inches. Antonito, Colorado, just north of Taos, was expecting a storm total of 8 to 12 inches.

Snow clings to cedar branches in Fairview Park in Farmington on Jan. 19, 2021.

The precipitation expected later in the week is expected to take the form of rain for lower-elevation areas and snow for higher-elevation sites, Sullivan said, and the storm track could take much of that moisture south of Interstate 40.

She noted that kind of prolonged activity has been unusual in New Mexico this season, given the fact that a La Niña system has set up in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a winter with warmer-than-normal temperatures and less-than-normal precipitation.

The Brookside Skate Park is covered in fresh snow on Jan. 19, 2021, in Farmington.

"At least for the next 10 to 14 days, we could see below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation," she said.

She said New Mexico has been seeing more systems from the Pacific Northwest than normal this season, but they have not generated the kind of moisture that normally would be expected.

Before the Jan. 19 storm hit, the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington had received approximately a half inch of accumulated snow since November, Sullivan said. That compares unfavorably to the 2.25 inches the airport normally would have seen by that date, she said.

One of the pools at the Bisti Bay Water Park in Farmington is blanketed in powder on Jan. 19, 2021.

The next several days could provide at least a little relief, with periods of moisture being interrupted by warmer, drier days. Sullivan said the weather likely would be good news for skiing enthusiasts, but she advised that anyone who plans to travel across northern New Mexico over the next several days should be careful.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.