A late-autumn snowstorm lumbered into the Great Plains on Monday, unleashing snow and fierce winds that turned roads to ice, reduced visibility to zero and jeopardized thousands of holiday motorists' travel plans just two days before the official start of winter.
The storm was blamed for at least two deaths in Colorado. A guard and an inmate were killed after a prison van lost control on an icy highway five miles east of Limon on Colorado's plains. Eight other inmates and a prison employee were hospitalized with moderate to serious injuries, the Colorado State Patrol said.
From northern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle through Oklahoma and northwestern Kansas, blizzard conditions put state road crews on alert and had motorists taking refuge and early exits off major roads.
In northern New Mexico, snow and ice forced the closure of all roads from the town of Raton to the Texas and Oklahoma borders about 90 miles away. Hotels in Clayton, N.M., just east of where the three states touch, were nearly full.
The storm came after much of the country had a relatively mild fall. With the exception of the October snowstorm blamed for 29 deaths on the East Coast, there's been little rain or snow. Many of the areas hit Monday enjoyed relatively balmy 60-degree temperatures just 24 hours earlier.
The snow moved into the Oklahoma Panhandle early Monday morning, and 1.5 inches accumulated in about an hour, said Vicki Roberts, who owns the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast in Kenton. Her inn sits at the base of the 4,973-foot-tall Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma. Looking out her window, she couldn't see it.
Travel throughout the region was difficult. New Mexico shut down a portion of Interstate 25, the major route heading northeast of Santa Fe into Colorado, and Clayton police dispatcher Cindy Blackwell said her phones were "ringing off the hook" with calls from numerous motorists stuck on rural roads.