Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

Las Vegas weather can be a gamble

Snow, flash floods, and even tornadoes shake up normal heat wave

Weather

Five-year-old Kathlene Meyers catches flakes during a rare winter snow in Las Vegas in 1930. The last big snowfall came on Jan. 31, 1979 when 7.4 inches accumulated. Normally standing snow only occurs near the valley's neighboring mountains. Launch slideshow »

Snow in Las Vegas?

Bet on it.

While snow accumulating in the Las Vegas Valley is rare, flurries often occur once or twice during most winters. Snowfall of an inch or more occurs once in every four to five years, according to the National Weather Service.

The last big snowfall came on Jan. 31, 1979, piling up 7.4 inches. Weather Service records show that snowfall that sticks around for a while only occurs about every 20 years.

April snow is rare in Las Vegas, but the Las Vegas Sun reported on April 13, 1965 that it had snowed in some areas, including Boulder City, 30 miles southeast of the valley.

If not for the highly unlikely snow scenario, or at the very least, an occasional Monsoon-season rain, Las Vegas residents and visitors are usually burning up in the desert’s boiling days and sweltering nights.

Record heat in July 2006 made that month the hottest in Las Vegas history. The mercury hit 117 degrees on July 19, 2006, tying the hottest temperature ever recorded at the city’s official spot in the shade at McCarran International Airport.

Las Vegas also hit the all-time hottest average of 106 degrees for the same day, and set a new minimum high temperature for the same day at 95 degrees.

The hottest overall month came in July 2005 with an average temperature of 95.3 degrees, beating the old record of 94.8 degrees in July 2003.

More and more scientists are saying that the weather is consistent with long-term climate changes that could continue affecting the West.

Experimental computer models tell scientists that the jet stream, the river of air flowing around the world, could mean drier conditions in the southern tier of the United States, according to Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist with the Desert Research Institute's Western Regional Climate Center in Reno.

Redmond said even if you subtract all the concrete in Las Vegas from increased urban growth over the past two decades, the valley’s temperature has still increased a couple degrees.

The climate shift underway in the West means that more “extreme weather” could occur as the changes continue. But extreme weather is no stranger to Las Vegas.

Thunderstorms strong enough to spawn tornadoes struck Southern Nevada in September 1998. The funnels collapsed two roofs at Sunset and Gibson Roads, according to the National Weather Service, which surveyed the damage in the days after the storms. Five tornadoes touched down in the Las Vegas Valley on March 30, 1992. One of those twisters ripped the roof off a home, uprooted trees, carried away a steel shed, blew out windows, and destroyed parts of fences. There were no injuries.

Perhaps the worst storm suspected of producing a tornado swept down Las Vegas Boulevard late on Sept. 17, 1961. Nine people died, including four Nevada Power Company linemen and five Boy Scouts who drowned in their campground in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. Their bodies were found floating in the Virgin River.

Torrential rains produce floods that sweep cars, trucks and mobile homes away from July through September, during the moist airflow period known as the Southwestern monsoon season.

Significant flooding has occurred in 1992, 1995, 1997 and 1998.

Long-time Las Vegas residents can recall the July 1975 flood that swept 300 cars out of a parking lot at Caesars Palace and killed two North Las Vegas Public Works Department employees as raging waters roared across the valley into the Las Vegas Wash.

More than $7 million in property damage resulted from a series of storms that raked Southern Nevada and the southwest in August 1984.

Heavy rains in late January and February of 2005 caused flooding across the valley and washed out railroad tracks about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas in Lincoln County.

The 2005 winter storm harkens back to headlines in the January 1952 Las Vegas Sun when 250 people had to be evacuated from a train mired in floodwaters between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

History: Table of contents »