Winter storm brings record snowfall to parts of Arizona
Flagstaff, Ariz. – A winter storm that swept through the Southwest and brought a rare snowfall to the Las Vegas Strip and the mountains above Malibu in California pounded north-central Arizona with record amounts.
The Clark County School District in southern Nevada, the nation’s fifth-largest, is canceling classes Friday because of the weather. In northern Arizona, schools, government offices, airports and roads were expected to be closed for a second day as the storm tapers off.
Residents in northern Arizona will be digging out from what the National Weather Service characterized as “not your average” storm.
“It is by no means over for us,” said meteorologist Mark Stubblefield in Flagstaff. “It’s still dangerous to travel.”
The snow began late Wednesday and didn’t let up Thursday, falling at 3 to 4 inches an hour in parts of Arizona. The National Weather Service said that rate will fall by about half Friday. Officials will turn their concerns to local streets that didn’t get plowed, overburdened roofs and freezing temperatures expected into the weekend.
Flagstaff on Thursday had a new single-day snowfall record of 35.9 inches at the airport and had to shut down its only runway because of zero visibility. The record set in 1915 was 31 inches.
Phoenix on Thursday set a record for the day with 1.01 inch of rain, eclipsing the old mark of 0.73 inch set in 1973.
Outlying areas in higher elevations of the northern outskirts of metro Phoenix had light snowfall, which National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Deemer said Friday is not uncommon.
The National Weather Service in Las Vegas tweeted in response to its counterpart in Flagstaff that the .5 inches of snow recorded there broke its previous record of zero.
Clark County school officials say classes for roughly 320,000 students will be canceled due to the possibility of freezing temperatures making roads unsafe for buses.
McCarran International Airport spokeswoman Christine Crews said she tallied about 100 flight cancellations because of snow and ice. The storm has brought the first significant snowfall at the airport in a decade with 0.8 inch by Thursday afternoon.
The rare snowfall prompted revelers to erect a snowman near the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
“We expected cold, but not snow,” tourist Lila de Guerrero said after taking a photo at the sign wearing a puffer jacket and hat.
The storm also dropped snow in the Santa Monica Mountains above the Malibu coast and coated large areas of desert northeast of Los Angeles.
“No need to panic Los Angeles – the LAPD is on snow watch,” the city’s police department tweeted, along with video of a light flurry.
Authorities closed portions of the main routes from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Phoenix because of snow, ice and limited visibility.
Several roads across Arizona, including northbound Interstate 17 for about 40 miles south of Flagstaff, were closed. The Arizona Department of Public Safety said no one died or was seriously injured in the more than 250 calls it handled in the northern portion of the state.
The cities of Flagstaff and Prescott, and Coconino County declared emergencies. Officials said snow plows struggled to keep routes clear and there was “significant concern” about the weight on rooftops.
The roads were eerily quiet throughout the day and the storm essentially shut down towns across the region. Payson, about 90 miles northeast of Phoenix, gets an average annual snowfall of about 2 feet. It hit that amount Thursday, closing roads in and out of town and leaving travelers stranded.
Paul Moss and other drivers were chatting about the latest road conditions at a travel center west of Flagstaff on Thursday, where semi-trailers were stuck waiting to fuel up. Moss said he could drive in the snow but prefers not to do so.
“Sometimes it’s just unsafe. You need to shut down,” said the Los Banos, California, resident, who was hauling a truckload of oranges. “I’ve got a family to go home to. My family is more important than freight.”
AP writers Ken Ritter, Michelle Price and Regina Garcia Cano in Las Vegas; Terry Tang, Paul Davenport and Astrid Galvan in Phoenix; and Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.