Las Vegas Sun

September 3, 2014

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Snow Smothers Vegas

One of the worst snowstorms in Las Vegas history smothered the valley Wednesday, closing schools and McCarran International Airport, forcing power lines and causing more than 150 traffic accidents.

As of 10 p.m. Wednesday 7.2 inches of snow had fallen in the valley and 6 inches were on the ground at McCarran.

Not since Jan. 25, 1949, when nearly five inches of snow fell, has the city been stung by such crippling snowstorm.

More than eight inches blanketed the city Jan. 4-5 in 1974, but that storm was not as intense as the one barreling through the valley Wednesday.

The snowfall was the second in three days. Monday, nearly 2 1/2 inches were dumped on the area.

Wednesday's storm, at times reaching near-blizzard conditions, dramatically touched all parts of the city.

As gamblers were playing the tables as usual at most busy Las Vegas Strip hotels, the heavy snow delayed incoming flights at McCarran International Airport, forcing it to close down at 9 p.m. because of icy runways and poor visibility, a spokesman said.

For the first time in recent memory, all 107 public schools in the Clark County School District will be closed Thursday. Classes at UNLV also have been canceled.

Continuous snowfall caused a variety of problems for Las Vegas motorists. Although most roads remained open late Wednesday, more than 150 minor traffic accidents were reported by Metro Police and the Nevada Highway Patrol.

"We've had a tremendous number of accidents," a NHP spokesman said. "This is unprecedented."

Cold and heavy snow accumulations also caused problems for major area utilities.

A spokesman for Nevada Power Co. said the winter weather forced two 12,000 volt power lines down, causing a power outage for several hours over a six-block square area along Flamingo Road from Maryland Parkway to Desert Springs Hospital.

Affected most by the outage was the hospital, which was forced to switch to an auxiliary generator.

A spokesman at Desert Springs said the hospital was continuing normal operations but that physicians were reluctant to conduct major surgery.

As of 6:30 p.m., power was still out in that area.

The Nevada Power spokesman said the company also was forced to buy energy from Arizona because it could not meet the increased demand Wednesday from its customers. He said more than 125 megawatts had been purchased from an Arizona power company.

Then there was the Central Telephone Co. and its problems.

Spokeswoman Betty Ellis said the company was experiencing more than 100,000 calls per hour on its downtown exchanges alone - 20,000 calls over its normal usage.

"It's absolutely outrageous," she said. "We've been getting more calls than we ever imagined we could handle."

The storm also reportedly knocked two radio stations, KFMS and KVEG, off the air for several hours.

According to Don Williams of the weather service, Wednesday's snowfall, although not the largest in history, was one of he worst and indeed a rarity.

Since the weather service began keeping records in 1937, there have been only 25 days of measurable snowfall, he said. The greatest years came in 1949 when 16.7 inches fell in Januray and 1974 when 13.4 inches was recorded for that same month.

The most snow ever to fall on one day was 4.7 inches twice in 1949 and once in 1947, he added.

Las Vegas as recorded only 52.3 inches of snow since 1937, he said.

As the white stuff pummeled the city much of the day, a variety of Las Vegans and tourists took time out to ponder the historical occurrence.

First there were the longtime Las Vegas residents, many of whom witnessed past snowstorms.

"This was the biggest snowstorm I've ever seen, including the one of 1949," said Sherwin "Scoop" Garside, a Las Vegas resident since 1931.

"I remember taking pictures of the snowfall in 1949 with my daughter making a snowman. But that snow didn't last as long."

Mary Habbart, 82, also recalled that big snowstorm.

"I woke up that morning at my house on North 7th Street and we were snowed in. We had a picket fence around the house, and the snow was all the way up to the two-by-four about six inches above the ground."

She said the snow was a bit harder to remove then because many roads were all dirt and there were no snowplow.

On the Strip Wednesday, casino play was not noticeably down, according to a SUN survey. Most casino officials appeared to be satisfied.

"We haven't got as much walk-in traffic," said MGM Grand Hotel spokesman Don Usherson, "But people aren't leaving the hotel either, so I guess it all evens out."

At the Sands Hotel, Herb Popolow and his wife Janice of New York City, stood just outside the main entrance, gazing at the familiar white flakes.

"I can't believe this," Herb said laughing. "We left a better day than this in New York...And I had to go ask for a room near the pool."

His reaction was typical of visitors who arrived in Las Vegas Wednesday expecting a vacation in the sun.

What they got instead was a view of Las Vegas seldom seen -- snow-covered palm trees, bundled-up Las Vegans and ice-caked cars.

Comedian Gabriel Kaplan, headlining at the Aladdin Hotel, may have summed things up best:

"Las Vegas has always been my favorite ski resort."

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