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Traffic slows as winter storm hits New Mexico

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By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — A winter storm blasted New Mexico with snowfall and freezing temperatures Tuesday, causing icy roads and littering streets with fender-benders.

The morning commute in Albuquerque was lengthy and treacherous as cautious motorists slowed to negotiate ice-covered roadways. Schools were closed in Albuquerque, Los Lunas and Rio Rancho and placed on a two-hour delay in Santa Fe.

On the state's east side, schools closed in Melrose, Tucumcari and San Jon.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning through 11 a.m. Wednesday. Forecasts called for up to 2 inches of snow in Albuquerque and accumulations of 9 to 15 inches in the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains in the north.

Rio Rancho officials said the city's municipal offices and facilities would open at 10 a.m. Wednesday — two hours later than usual — due to the inclement weather.

Forecasters said an Arctic air mass had settled over much of New Mexico, prompting very cold temperatures and causing brisk winds and subzero wind chills in some areas.

Public safety officials urged residents to avoid travel because of dangerous conditions. By 10 a.m., Albuquerque police had responded to at least 85 serious crashes and hundreds of minor collisions.

"The roads are very deceptive and many of the crashes are due to black ice," Police Chief Ray Schultz said. "If you don't need to drive, don't."

State Transportation Department officials said travel was difficult on snowpacked roads on Interstate 40 from Albuquerque to the Texas border and I-25 from Albuquerque to the Colorado line, as well as U.S. 550 in northwestern New Mexico from San Ysidro to Lynbrook.

Many roads across north-central New Mexico were snowpacked, including near Las Vegas, Mora, Cimarron, Eagle Nest and Red River.

Motorists who must travel outside urban areas were urged by authorities to pack a flashlight, food and water in case of an emergency.

The weather was good news for New Mexico ski areas. As of midday Tuesday, Ski Santa Fe reported 19 inches of new snow over a 48-hour period, Sipapu had 17 fresh inches and Angel Fire reported 13 inches. Ski Apache near Ruidoso had 16 new inches.

Daniel Jiron, spokesman at Albuquerque's international airport, said Sunport remained open and operational all of Tuesday but there were 20 canceled flights which represented about 15 percent of the day's schedule. He said all of the canceled flights were due to the weather at the destinations.

As of Tuesday night, Jiron said American Airlines had canceled its two scheduled flights Wednesday from Albuquerque to Chicago's O'Hare Airport and Southwest Airlines had canceled its two flights to Chicago's Midway Airport. He urged passengers to check with their airlines before leaving for Sunport.