Rollers rare occurence

Snow rollers were visible across Tucumcari throughout the weekend. Tucumcari Elementary School secretary Kim Garcia said, “The last time I saw them was when we had that really big snow in 1986.” (Courtesy photo)

By Chelle Delaney: Freedom Newspapers

Women likened them to jellyrolls, or rolls of batting. Men described them as looking like logs or cylinders.

What Quay County residents were seeing is a rare weather phenomenon called “snow rollers,” which are nature’s way of creating snowballs, according to Charlie Liles, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

“They look like a roll of insulation,” said Liles, who couldn’t recall such an incident.

Conditions have to be perfect, Liles said, like those “when you make a good snowman or snowballs.”

Those conditions were apparently just right on Saturday night because Quay County farmer and rancher Tom Bauler said there were hundreds and hundreds of them Sunday in his pastures off N.M. 104.

“I even kicked a few because I thought there was tumbleweed inside them. But there wasn’t anything in them. I estimate they were about 2 feet thick and 2 feet long,” Bauler said.

Beth Parmer also saw them. Parmer took dozens of pictures of dozens of the snow rollers on the fields at the Tucumcari Elementary School and Mesalands Community College on 11th Street.

“The largest center was 18 inches, and I’d estimate the longest ones were about 30 inches long,” Parmer said.

How it happens

Here’s how the National Weather Service Web site describes the process of snow roller creation:

—The ground surface must have an icy, crusty snow, on which falling snow cannot stick.
—About an inch or so of loose, wet snow must accumulate.
—Gusty and strong winds are needed to scoop out chunks of snow.
The Web site also relates, “Once the initial ‘seed’ of the roller is started, it begins to roll. It collects additional snow from the ground as it rolls along,
leaving trails behind it. … Many times they are hollow. They can be as small as a golf ball, or as large as a 30-gallon drum, but typically they are about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.”