Arizona digs out from mega snow storm

The winter snow storm forced Arizona officials to temporarily close Interstate 40 and parts of Interstate 17. Both highways later reopened Sunday afternoon.

Joshua Lott/REUTERS
Flagstaff, Arizona was hit with a late winter storm that dumped more than of foot of snow in the area on March 18.

A winter storm and high winds struck parts of Arizona and New Mexico on Sunday, causing hazardous driving conditions, power outages and school cancellations.

The fast moving storm forced the National Weather Service to place parts of northern New Mexico under a winter storm warning until midnight Monday as heavy snow and wind from Arizona quickly blanketed the area.

The electric company PNM reported that around 33,000 customers were out of power at one point Sunday afternoon in the Albuquerque area due to high winds. A spokesman for PNM said emergency crews were working to restore power, and by 9 p.m. the number without electricity was down to 4,500.

IN PICTURES: Extreme Weather 2012

Heavy winds and blowing dust forced the closure of parts Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico due to low visibility, but the road was back open later in the day. A flight carrying the University of New Mexico men's basketball team home after its loss in the NCAA tournament was delayed due to high winds.

Arizona Department of Transportation crews were fully deployed Sunday after heavy snow in Arizona fell from Flagstaff to the White Mountains. The winter storm forced officials to temporary close Interstate 40 in both directions and parts of Interstate 17. Both highways later reopened Sunday afternoon.

Arizona Snowbowl reported 19 inches of snowfall, and the Flagstaff Nordic Center has measured 12 to 18 inches of fresh snow overnight.

Low temperatures also caused a hard freeze on roads, making them extremely slippery. A number of truck drivers were forced off the roads and waited out the storm at travel centers, according to a number of television reports.

The National Weather Service said Flagstaff and surrounding area were under a winter storm warning until midnight Monday. More snow was expected overnight into Monday. Storm totals range from between 12 to 22 inches above 7,000 feet.

In addition, Northern Arizona University, Coconino Community College and the Flagstaff Unified School District canceled classes Monday to allow students an extra day of safer travel to return from spring break. Coconino County offices delayed Monday's opening until 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, much of New Mexico remained under a high wind advisory with damaging winds expected to reach up to 60 mph.

The New Mexico Environmental Health Department's Air Quality Division issued a fugitive dust/high wind notice until Monday that warned residents who are sensitive to blowing dust, such as those with asthma, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory and heart diseases, to limit outdoor activity. Children and older adults also could be affected by particulate pollution, the agency said.

Dan Ware, state forestry spokesman, said high winds were the blame for a fire west of Silver City in the Wind Canyon area. He said crews contained a fire Sunday afternoon. He said burned less than 7 acres, and was not a threat to any structures.

IN PICTURES: Extreme Weather 2012

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