Storms dump heavy rain, snow on parts of West
PHOENIX (AP) – Western states battled nasty winter weather that shut down major roads in Arizona and California, blasted Nevada with frigid winds and left an area of western Washington in a whiteout.
The storm systems across parts of the West dumped heavy snows in some mountainous regions Wednesday and soaking rains in lower elevations, cutting power to thousands and causing numerous traffic tie-ups and accidents.
The storms even intruded on the normally pleasant winter weather in the Phoenix desert area, delivering an hours-long chilly rain and leaving residents bracing for a rare below-freezing dip in temperatures Friday.
Snow and ice forced the closure of parts of Interstates 17 and 40, the two major thoroughfares in northern Arizona, stranding motorists south of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
“As far as I can see, it’s tail lights,” said Abel Gurrola, who was headed north on I-17 with his wife and three sons before the highway reo pened Thursday morning.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety said it received more than 100 calls reporting slide-offs in a three-hour period, including semi trucks.
Snow also forced California transportation officials to close Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where winds were gusting to more than 40 mph. The freeway was shut down from Halloran Springs to the Nevada state line but reopened early Thursday with highway patrol officers escorting motorists.
Visibility was down to a half-mile around the Grand Canyon and a quarter-mile in Flagstaff, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Breckenridge said.
A blizzard warning was issued in parts of eastern and southeastern Arizona, and forecasters warned the system would likely move into neighboring New Mexico on Thursday.
The latest round of rain to hit waterlogged California moved east, leaving powerful winds in its wake.
Gusts of more than 50 mph hit parts of northern L os Angeles County late Wednesday, with colder air and potentially damaging winds expected overnight.
The California Highway Patrol reported downed trees and tumbleweeds on various Los Angeles-area freeways and streets, making it treacherous for motorists.
One person was killed by a falling tree and a snowboarder was missing. The U.S. Coast Guard searched in strong winds and high seas for a 20-foot pleasure boat reported to be in distress with four people aboard.
Winds were even stronger further east.
The storm socked the Sierra Nevada with gusts topping 100 mph and more than a foot of snow, causing flight delays in Reno, Nev., and headaches for motorists.
Utility crews worked to restore power to more than 10,000 homes and businesses around South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
One of the strongest wind gusts was recorded at 105 mph at Mammoth Lakes ski resort.
Heavy snow and icy roads made travel tough in the Spokane area of eastern Washington, wh ich was hit by 9 inches of snow, while knocking out power to 6,000 customers.
Blizzard conditions blew through Palouse, near the Idaho line. Wind gusts of more than 30 mph “will create whiteout conditions over the rural areas of the Palouse. Travel will be dangerous or impossible,” the National Weather Service said.
A camping Boy Scout troop had to be rescued after a snowstorm stranded them near Pocatello, Idaho. The seven boys and three adults had planned to spend Tuesday night at Lariat Cave but were unable to get out, Power County Sheriff Jim Jeffries said. They called for help Wednesday morning and responders brought them out by snowmobile several hours later.
Wyoming and Colorado didn’t escape the Western blitz.
Storms were expected to dump up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado’s mountains before things calm down Friday.
Jackson Hole, Wyo., had several inches of snow with higher totals in the mountains. Winter storm warnings were in effect from Y ellowstone and Teton National Parks.
An American Airlines jet with 181 people on board went past the end of a snowy runway at Jackson Hole Airport. No one was hurt and no cause has yet been officially determined. The pilot blamed brake failure.
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