A major winter storm is headed for the southwestern Great Plains, with blizzard conditions expected by Monday afternoon in parts of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the National Weather Service warned Sunday.
There's a better than 90 percent chance that Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico and northwest Texas will be closed because of low visibility and blowing snow by late Monday afternoon, said Kerry Jones, a weather service forecaster in Albuquerque, N.M. The same is true for Interstate 25 from New Mexico into southern Colorado and other highways across the region.
Up to 15 inches of snow is expected in northeastern New Mexico, the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado, which were under blizzard watches or warnings Sunday afternoon. The storm is expected to hit at the beginning of a holiday travel week that is one of the busiest of the year.
"We try to reserve these blizzard watches for very intense storm systems," Jones said.
Much of Kansas will be affected, with the heaviest snowfall from southwestern Kansas, south into the Oklahoma panhandle, south toward Amarillo, Texas, and west into the New Mexico plains.
Jones warned people in the region not to be fooled by Sunday's pleasant weather - the storm is expected to move in quickly and is potentially life-threatening.
The intense low-pressure system was circulating south of Yuma, Ariz., Sunday, but was expected to move into southwestern New Mexico overnight. Rain will develop first, but the system is expected to intensify and turn colder, with snow expected in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M., by midday. Up to 4 inches could fall in the foothills around Albuquerque, and Santa Fe could get up to 5 inches.
Much heavier snow is expected as the storm moves to the northeast along the Great Divide and into the plains, where winds above 40 mph may create near white-out conditions along highways. Clayton, N.M., near the Texas-Oklahoma line, could see the most snow it's measured in five years, estimated at 15 inches or more. One area outside Amarillo could get up to 18 inches.
"Those are tremendous amounts of snow," Jones said. "Add to that the fact that that snow is going to be blowing, and you're going to have winds easily in the 40 mph range if not higher, it's going to be a very ugly, potentially life-threatening situation."
Livestock could be affected, so ranchers in the region should take precautions to protect their cattle.
The storm is a fast-mover and is expected to leave the region by midday Tuesday. But temperatures will stay in the 20s and 30s so the snow won't melt quickly, and a weaker storm that could move into New Mexico Tuesday will likely follow the same general track.