Snow comes down on the New York-New York, as seen from the roof of the Tropicana Hotel and Casino on Wednesday.
Published Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 | 6:52 a.m.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008 | 10:48 a.m.
Snow On The Strip
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UPDATED STORY: Snow begins melting off in Las Vegas
A rare snowstorm blanketed the Las Vegas Valley on Wednesday, delaying flights, causing widespread fender-benders and canceling events. As much as 8 inches of snow fell in parts of the valley, forecasters said this morning.
The rarities continued Wednesday night with the Clark County School District's announcement that students are getting a snow day today. It's the first snow day for Clark County students since 1979, when a storm dropped 9.9 inches of snow in January that year.
With ice and snow on the roads, and district buses responsible for transporting more than 80,000 students, closing school was the prudent move, Superintendent Walt Rulffes said.
Bus drivers, teachers and other classroom employees will also have the day off. Administrators, 12-month employees and office staff are expected to be at work, since some students might show up at school and require adult assistance, Rulffes explained in an e-mail to staff. In a statement this morning, the school district said all school-based food service personnel, food service truck drivers and warehouse employees are not to report for work. However, all other food service personnel shall report for work or contact their supervisor.
School Board President Mary Beth Scow said she planned to spend the day watching holiday movies and baking cookies with her grandchildren, who will have the day off from school. She said she didn't envy the teachers who will have a hard enough time keeping students' attention on Friday, the last day before the two-week winter break.
A makeup day might be scheduled later in the school year. Additional information on school closures will be posted on the district's Web site at ccsd.net.
The National Weather Service finally lifted a winter storm warning at 6 a.m. today. The weather service said its Las Vegas office had reported 3.6 inches of snow by 9:50 p.m. Wednesday. And there was a report of 8 inches measured in Henderson shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday.
The weather service said the main low pressure area was centered over northern Clark County at 3:30 a.m. today and was moving slowly east.
Heavy snow had already fallen over much of the warning area and another 2 to 4 inches would be possible above the 2,500-foot level elevations through early morning, the weather service said.
The weather service this morning urged travelers to take with them warm clothing, an extra flashlight, food and water in their vehicles in case of an emergency and to be alert for slippery spots on roads.
The warning area included Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City. An advisory from the weather service Wednesday afternoon called the snow event "extremely rare."
The 3.6 inches of snow through late Wednesday at the weather service office two miles southwest of McCarran International Airport set a record for the most snow ever in the month of December in Las Vegas since the beginning of official records in 1937, the weather service said. The office is the official recording station for weather in the Las Vegas Valley.
Measurable snow has only fallen on four other occasions since 1937 in December, the weather service said: 2 inches on Dec. 15, 1967; 0.4 inches on Dec. 5, 1972; 1 inch on Dec. 6, 1998; and 1.3 inches on Dec. 30, 2003.
Not all areas of the Las Vegas Valley had snow accumulations because a mix of rain and snow fell much of the time. Also, warm ground temperatures kept the snow from sticking in some areas, the weather service said.
Downtown Las Vegas and the northern parts of the Strip saw snow, but little to no accumulation, the weather service said.
However, 1.7 inches of snow was measured on The Strip at the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada" sign. Areas of heaviest snow measured between 3 to 6 inches, with local amounts of 8-plus inches in Henderson, the weather service said.
Flights at McCarran resume
The heavy snow caused numerous delays at McCarran International Airport on Wednesday, but airport officials announced this morning that arriving and departing flights operations resumed around 6 a.m.
While McCarran didn't close overnight, low visibility caused by the snow had stopped activity from late Wednesday afternoon until early this morning. The airport is the seventh busiest in the country.
Airport officials said the snow that accumulated overnight on McCarran's runways is melting under the morning sunlight and each of the airport's three runways is open for flight operations.
Because of the poor weather condition Wednesday, many airlines cancelled flights and the Federal Aviation Administration issued a national ground stop that temporarily kept most aircraft bound for Las Vegas from departing.
Travelers who want to fly out of the airport today should contact their air carrier to find out their flight status, airport officials said. Those expecting arriving passengers should also contact the appropriate airlines directly, officials said.
Flight information can also be obtained at www.mccarran.com.
Texans stranded at airport
More than 100 residents of a tiny Texas town who flew to Las Vegas last week paid for by the Las Vegas Convention and Tourism Authority remained stranded at the airport Wednesday night.
Men in cowboy hats slept next to each other near the McCarran exits after finding out their 3 p.m. flight to Cranfills Gap, Texas, was postponed until 9 a.m. Thursday morning.
"We thought we would be able to get back to the Gap and enjoy the sunshine," said Laura Rose, a Cranfills Gap resident. "Didn't think that we'd end up in the desert in the snow."
The Las Vegas tourism group paid for nearly half of the town's 350 residents to visit Las Vegas for five days as part of a marketing campaign to promote the city.
Along with the snow, NV Energy reported power outages Wednesday evening along Desert Inn Road, near Maryland Parkway, Mohave Avenue, Pecos Road, Eastern Avenue, Boulder Highway and Seneca Street; Rancho Drive and Valley View Boulevard, Rancho Drive and Washington Avenue; Lake Mead Parkway and Martin Luther King Boulevard; and Washington Avenue and Martin Luther King Blvd.
NV Energy said crews were working to fix the outages. It was unclear what caused the outages.
Police were directing traffic along Maryland Parkway to Pecos Road due to stoplight outages.
Traffic accidents numerous
Streets around the valley were becoming slick and slushy through the evening and into the morning.
Heavy traffic and snow-covered slick streets made the uphill climb troublesome on Eastern Avenue in Henderson, leading to heavy congestion Wednesday night.
The city of Henderson road crews were continuing today to focus efforts to clear snow off Eastern Avenue from Intestate 215 south to the Anthem community, according to Cindy Herman, Henderson's public information manager. Herman said residents are asked to remove abandoned vehicles to assist with the clean-up efforts.
"Commuters along Eastern Avenue should use caution as the weather, change in grade and abandoned vehicles are contributing to hazardous travel conditions. If possible, Anthem residents are asked to avoid the area and find alternate routes for morning commutes," Herman said in a statement released this morning.
The Nevada Department of Transportation announced this morning that Interstate 15 is still closed south of Las Vegas in each direction and is expected to open by noon between Primm and Baker.
The I-15 southbound lanes are closed at St. Rose Parkway because of a truck accident and diesel spill at mile post 27, according to Robert McKenzie, NDOT public information officer.
U.S. Highway 95's southbound lanes are closed at Railroad Pass to Nevada State Route 163 because of snow and icy conditions, McKenzie said. State routes 161, 164 and 165 are closed to traffic.
U.S. Highway 93's north and south lanes to Boulder City are now open again. State Routes 160 and 159 are open to traffic with no controls, McKenzie said.
He said chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive vehicle restrictions are in place for State Route 156 to Mount Charleston. State Route 157 to Mount Charleston is open only to residents until further notice, McKenzie said.
The Nevada Highway Patrol and Metro Police said there had been numerous fender-benders on wet roads, but no serious injuries through Wednesday evening.
As snow continued to pile up, so did the number of car crashes. Metro Police have been working several accidents since the snow began to fall.
One included a pickup truck that had rolled over about 7:15 p.m. in the southbound lane in the 2300 block of Green Valley Parkway outside of the Wild Horse Estate Apartments. The pickup truck knocked down two small trees before it came to a stop in front of the street light. The vehicle rolled once and was on its side, perpendicular to the traffic, blocking the lanes.
At 7:55 p.m., Metro officers were working 26 accidents with four injuries, a hit-and-run, nine other traffic accidents and 11 traffic problems, which range from a stalled car to traffic light outages. The number of traffic incidents decreased into the night as fewer cars were on the roads.
Metro updates its traffic site every 15 minutes with accidents and traffic problems officers are currently working. Officer Jay Rivera said the most common accident officers are seeing involve cars colliding into other vehicles from behind, mostly at traffic lights.
There had been no fatalities through Wednesday evening, he said.
“People are use to following at a certain distance in dry conditions and are following at that same distance in these wet conditions and then rear-ending other cars," Rivera said.
"People aren't used to the snow," Officer Barbara Morgan said. "You need to drive the way conditions dictate."
Metro Police reported 18 wrecks between 2:15 and 3:25 p.m., including two hit-and-runs.
"People are driving silly," Morgan said. "They need to just slow down."
The Nevada Highway Patrol reported two crashes in the Henderson area during the same time frame — one at U.S. 95 and Wagon Wheel Drive and another at U.S. 95 and Horizon Drive. Additionally, U.S. 95 to Searchlight was closed beginning at Railroad Pass.
Motorists traveling to California and outside the Las Vegas Valley were finding major delays on Interstate 15 and other highways.
The Nevada Department of Transportation reported the highway was closed in both direction between Primm and Baker, Calif., because of snowy weather. Officials also said U.S. 95 was closed from the California line to U.S. 93 because of a traffic accident, and State Road 163, State Road 164 and State Road 165 were closed.
NDOT will be deicing bridges and ramps on U.S. 95 and I-15 during the night.
Blue Diamond Highway (SR 160) was closed and motorists were advised to detour using U.S. 95 north to SR 160 south to access Pahrump. Chains, snow tires, or four-wheel drive vehicle restrictions are in place for Mountain Springs and Mount Charleston.
North Las Vegas officials were urging motorists to stay off the streets.
“Motorists should slow down and be aware of their surroundings to avoid slamming on the breaks or jerking the steering wheel on frozen roads,” public works director Qiong Liu said. “These actions could cause a vehicle to veer or slide out of control, posing a risk to the driver and other vehicles on the road.”
The Nevada Highway Patrol was preparing to close Interstate 515 southbound at Railroad Pass, blocking traffic into Boulder City for all but Boulder City residents, Police Chief Thomas Finn said. In addition, traffic along U.S. 93 from Hoover Dam into Boulder City was to be diverted, Finn said.
Traffic will be routed onto Lake Shore Road and through Henderson to get to the Las Vegas area, National Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz said. Finn said Boulder City residents would be allowed through.
The Regional Transportation Commission has closed a portion of its 402 Route from Nevada State College to Boulder City, and officials cautioned that other bus routes that serve higher elevations may be detoured or delayed as well.
"It can't make it to Boulder City because of the road closures," spokesman Tracy Bower said.
A change of scenery
As Daniel Florez, a pharmacy employee at the CVS Pharmacy on Maryland Parkway and Silverado Ranch Boulevard, scraped a couple of inches of snow off the top of his car using a notebook, he said the snow was a nice change from the usual scenery.
"We were staring out the window all day saying 'I hope it sticks, I hope it sticks,'" he said.
He was, however, a little worried about the drive to his home in the Blue Diamond Road and Durango Road area that he would have to make at the end of his shift.
"It's a little scary out there," he said. "I don't know, Las Vegas people aren't used to this. I hope they can handle it."
J.T. Trainer, a Silverado-area resident who was leaving CVS as the snow piled up, said having grown up in Alaska and in Washington, where his dad used to take him out to do donuts on the snow-covered roads, he was not so much worried about himself, but was concerned about how other people were driving.
"I've seen three car accidents just on my way home from work," he said.
Two were on the freeway and another was when someone was trying to make a turn and slid into a pole, he said.
The weather prompted the city of Henderson to close city offices at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The city announced this morning that offices will resume regular operations today, however, recreation centers won't open until 8 a.m. The Henderson Safekey and Teen Scene sites are closed because of the Clark County school closures.
Outside the Summerlin Library on Dec. 17, Becker Middle School students Aaron Zambrano and Emre Keskintepe were holding up plastic bags collecting snowflakes.
The two 13-year-olds were just like thousands of other local residents taking in the rare snowstorm that struck the Las Vegas Valley.
“They’re pretty big flakes,” Aaron said. “We’re trying to have a snowball fight.”
Emre said he had seen snow before, but never like this in Summerlin.
“It’s weird to see snow covering the palm trees,” Emre said.
At the Boca Park shopping center near the corner of Rampart Boulevard and Charleston Boulevard, Casey Greenberg and her friend Thomas Jokerst watched the falling snow while having dinner at the Kona Grill.
“I think it’s amazing,” said Jokerst, a resident of San Francisco who was in town visiting friends. “I haven’t seen snow in like 15 years.”
“I’ve lived here for 17 years and this is freakish,” Greenberg said. “It snows every once in awhile, but only an inch or so. Nothing like this.”
Clark County has five daytime warming stations open through Friday. The locations are Catholic Charities (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.), 1501 N. Las Vegas Blvd.; Salvation Army (6 a.m. - 7 p.m.), 33 W. Owens Ave.; Cambridge Recreation Center (7 a.m. to 6 p.m.), 3930 Cambridge St.; Dula Gym (7 a.m. - 6 p.m.), 441 E. Bonanza Road; and Valley View Rec Center (7 a.m. - 6 p.m.), 500 Harris St. in Henderson. The area’s night shelters are Catholic Charities; the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, 480 W Bonanza Road; Salvation Army; and Shade Tree (for women only).
Forecast and snow reports
The snow is expected to end from west to east this morning and clouds will decrease this afternoon, according to the weather service's hazardous outlook this morning for Southern Nevada.
Another storm system will bring gusty winds into the area Friday and into Saturday but won't produce as much precipitation as the current storm, forecasters said.
Still another storm will arrive in the area on Monday or Tuesday, bringing another chance of precipitation and gusty winds.
Here is a summary of snow reports from Clark County from the weather service:
• 5:15 p.m., a weather service employee reported 0.1 inch of snow was sticking on the Strip on unpaved surfaces by the Circus Circus Casino.
• 5:15 p.m., 5 inches of snow was measured by a weather service employee near Wagon Wheel and U.S. Highway 95 about five miles west northwest of Boulder City.
• 5:30 p.m., around an inch of snow was sticking on the grass by the MGM Grand as well as on nonpaved surfaces by the Luxor, according to a weather service employee.
• 5:30 p.m., 11 inches of snow was measured at Mount Charleston by a co-op weather observer.
• 6:23 p.m., 3 inches of snow was measured in Henderson by the wife of a weather service employee.
• 6:40 p.m., 4 inches of snow was measured by a weather service employee in south Las Vegas.
• 8:34 p.m., 2.5 inches of snow was measured by a trained spotter near the Boulder Station Casino.
• 8:40 p.m., between 3 and 5 inches of snow was measured in Henderson near Heather and College by a spotter. The spotter also reported several separate vehicles crashed into walls along Interstate 215.
• 8:54 p.m., 7 inches of snow was measured in a residential neighborhood of Henderson near Black Mountain, around 2,700 feet in elevation.
• 8:58 p.m., 1.6 inches of snow was measured by a spotter near Desert Inn and Hollywood.
• 9:08 p.m., 8 inches of snow was measured in the far southeast part of Henderson by a weather service employee near Wagon Wheel and U.S. 95.
• 9:50 p.m., 3.6 inches of snow had fallen at the weather service office in Las Vegas on Dean Martin Road.
• 10 p.m., 6 inches was recorded by a trained weather spotter three miles south-southeast of Henderson.
• 10:30 p.m., 1.7 inches of snow was measured on the Strip at the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada" Sign.
-- Sun and Home News staffers contributing to this report were Dave Clark, Amanda Finnegan, Jeff Pope, Cydney Cappello, Kyle Hansen, Cara McCoy, Jean Reid Norman, Mary Manning, Ryan Greene, Ashley Livingston, Cassie Tomlin, Ray Brewer, Steve Silver, Tim Thiele, Evelio Contreras, Emily Richmond, Jeff O’Brien, Steve Green, Tim Richardson and Dave Toplikar.