Published Monday, Dec. 15, 2008 | 6:24 a.m.
Updated Monday, Dec. 15, 2008 | 4:30 p.m.
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Today's winter storm brought heavy snow to the Spring Mountains and the Red Rock Canyon area, a dusting of snow to the western foothills in Summerlin and even a rain/snow mix to the rest of the Las Vegas Valley.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a continued chance of precipitation Tuesday and Wednesday, with snow in the upper elevations.
An earlier forecast that snow would blanket most of Las Vegas — including accumulations on the Strip — didn't pan out.
"It looks so far that we're not going to get as much snow in the valley as we expected, or it's going to come in much later than we expected," said Edith Lindaman, a meteorologist in the weather service's Las Vegas office.
The rain/snow mix most of the valley got through the day will continue through the evening, Lindaman said.
"Most likely, snow will be above the 3,000 foot (elevation) level," she said. "It looks like what we're going to get for the rest of the day is going to be more rain than snow."
Storm brings flight delays
McCarran International Airport said today's storm caused some delays due to the low cloud ceiling. Officials said arriving flights were delayed by an average of 53 minutes, but that would change throughout the course of the day.
Departing flights were also affected; and passengers should check with their airline to determine if the weather is affecting their departure.
"We aren't experiencing any snowfall, but we currently have light rain," added Chris Jones, spokesman for the Clark County Department of Aviation, which operates the airport.
Driving conditions hazardous in some areas
The weather service said travelers and commuters should continue to be alert for the possibility of hazardous driving conditions, such as slick and icy roads and reduced visibility.
Elevated roads, such as bridges and overpasses might be snow-covered even when surface streets are only wet, the weather service said.
Motorists headed out of Las Vegas and into the Los Angeles area were sidetracked by wintry weather today in Southern California.
The California Department of Transportation reported that Interstate 15 was closed this morning at the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County. The highway, which is the major link between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area, reopened late this morning, although California Highway Patrol troopers were expecting to escort some motorists.
Weather also was blamed for closing State Road 138 in the Cajon Pass area from Interstate 15 to State Road 2. Chains were required today in all mountain areas in that region of California.
Mount Charleston gets heavy snow
At the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort on Mount Charleston, northwest of Las Vegas, snow started falling about 4 a.m. today and by 11 a.m. the new snowfall amounted to 14 inches.
Visibility was less than 500 feet all morning throughout the resort, and very light and powdery snow was coming down steadily.
The resort was running on a base of about 12 to 24 inches of man-made snow, but now it expects approximately two feet of new snowfall over the next three to four days.
"Chains are mandatory for all vehicles," said Craig Baldwin, base operations manager at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort. "People need to be really prepared before driving up here."
The resort opened the day after Thanksgiving and will likely be open until early April, depending on conditions.
The weather service said snow has been falling and sticking at elevations about 3,000 feet above Pahrump, Mercury and the west side of the Las Vegas Valley. Snow totals are expected to be between two and four inches on grassy areas, or exposed objects, such as cars.
The highest amounts are expected in the upper elevations in the Spring Mountains, where snow will range from 6 inches to as much as 18 inches, the weather service predicts.
Snow and rain reports
The following are some weather observations from around the valley:
• At 3:56 a.m., McCarran International Airport had reported precipitation amounting to .41 of an inch since 9:20 a.m. The temperature has remained at 37 degrees for most of the day.
• About 11:30 a.m., visibility near Mount Charleston was about a quarter of a mile. Mike Huff, of Indian Springs Towing, had been helping motorists out of ditches and suggested drivers use chains on their tires if traveling up the mountain. Most of the cars coming down the mountain were SUVs.
• About 11 a.m., there was snow blanketing the ground off Highway 95 at Kyle Canyon Road, which is the turnoff to Mount Charleston. The temperature was hovering near freezing at 33 degrees. Six cars were pulled off the side of the road while people played in the snow, including two families building snowmen and taking pictures in the wintry weather.
• At 10:50 a.m., snow was sticking to the ground at the 215 Beltway and Summerlin Parkway.
• By about 10:20 a.m., light snow had accumulated near Red Rock Resort and the western Las Vegas Valley. Snow continued to fall, although it was only sticking to surfaces such as grassy areas and parked vehicles.
• About 10 a.m., rain, not snow, was falling at Tropicana Avenue and Pecos Road, according to a Sun reporter.
• About 9:30 a.m. Las Vegas resident Nancy Marcellus who was shopping at Border's Bookstore, 10950 W. Charleston Blvd., said motorists were driving more slowly than normal this morning. She said she remembers the region's last snow five years ago, but today's snowfall is more "gentle" because of the lack of wind. She also noticed fewer drivers on the roads.
• At 9:20 a.m., a Sun videographer reported there was about three to four inches of snow on the ground in the town of Blue Diamond, going into Spring Mountain Range State Park on Nevada State Route 159. He said snow had been falling since about 7 a.m. The pavement was slick and visibility was limited going west on Nevada State Route 160 to Pahrump, he said.
• Light snow was falling about 8 a.m. near the Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa, according to a Sun photographer in the area. However, there were no accumulations reported.
• Snow was falling in the west part of the valley around 6 a.m. near West Charleston Boulevard and the 215 Beltway.
More wet weather ahead
For the rest of the afternoon, skies will be cloudy with a 40 percent chance of showers. Tonight's forecast calls for a 40 percent chance showers, mainly before 10 p.m. Skies will be partly cloudy, with a low around 32 degrees.
Tuesday will see a 40 percent chance of showeres, with the high reaching 49 degrees under mostly cloudy skies.
Tuesday night will be bring a 30 percent chance showers, mainly after 10 p.m., with mostly cloudy skies and a low around 33 degrees.
Wednesday's forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of showers, with a high near 45, forecasters said.
Snow not that unusual
Most people envision sun and palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze when they dream about their Las Vegas vacations, but those arriving in Las Vegas between October and mid-April may be surprised to find snowflakes falling.
In fact, the three snowiest months occurred in the Las Vegas Valley in the 20th Century, according to weather service records. The most snowfall was recorded in January 1949 with 16.7 inches, followed by January 1974 with 13.4 inches and January 1979 with 9.9 inches.
December 1967 is the only month of December that counts as snowy with 2 inches of the white stuff recorded on the ground. And that occurred on Dec. 15.
The earliest snow ever recorded arrived as a trace or measurable on Nov. 15, 1964 when three inches fell followed by another inch on Nov. 16, 1964.
The latest snow ever recorded for the winter season in the valley was a trace on April 4, 1958.
The last snowfall was recorded as a trace on Dec. 22, 2006, when a mixture of rain and snow fell in the valley. However, the Summerlin area got a few flakes of snow on Oct. 11 this year.
Measurable snow officially fell in Las Vegas on Dec. 30, 2003, with 1.3 inches on the ground, the weather service said.
Weather Service records show that snowfall that sticks on the ground and piles up occurs about once every 20 years.
Snow statistics through Jan. 31, 1996 were recorded at McCarran International Airport. Then the weather service moved its offices two miles southwest to Dean Martin Road and records have been measured there since Feb. 1, 1996.
— The following contributed to this report: Sun reporters Mary Manning and Cydney Cappello, Sun photographer Justin Bowen, Sun videographer Evelio Contreras and Home News reporter Jeff O’Brien.