Winter storms in the U.S. Southwest brought rare snowfall Thursday to the Las Vegas Strip, dusting casino marquees and prompting revelers to erect a snowman near the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
The National Weather Service reported the first significant snowfall at McCarran International Airport in a decade with 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) falling by Thursday afternoon.
“We expected cold, but not snow,” tourist Lila de Guerrero said after taking a photo at the Las Vegas sign wearing a puffer coat and hat.
De Guerrero, who is visiting from El Salvador, said it was the first time she had ever seen snow.
German tourist Daniela Huber said she was surprised that her vacation to the desert wasn’t much of an escape from winter.
“We thought it was strange because we came from Germany, where it snows all the time,” she said.
Some suburban foothill areas near Las Vegas were pillowy white after getting several inches of snow. On the casino-lined Las Vegas Strip, the snow was fleeting, melting faster than a bad gamblers’ luck.
Outside the city, authorities closed portions of the main routes from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Phoenix because of snow, ice and limited visibility.
About 50 miles of Interstate 15 closed from Primm, Nevada, to Baker, California.
The Nevada Department of Transportation reported a 22-mile line of cars and trucks backed up on U.S. 93 between Boulder City, Nevada, and Kingman, Arizona.
Snowstorms also blanketed other parts of the Southwest, further easing drought conditions while clogging traffic in California, and forcing the closure of Interstate 40 and an airport in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Barney Helmick, director of the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, said its only runway closed when the visibility level hit zero. Intense snow also forced the closure of schools and businesses in the region.
Snow coated large areas of the desert outside Los Angeles and left traffic stalled near Joshua Tree National Park. Wet weather this winter has almost washed drought conditions out of California, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
In Nevada, snow delayed flights at McCarran airport and traffic on highways.
“We don’t have snowplows,” airport spokeswoman Christine Crews said as she tallied about 100 flight cancellations because of snow and ice. “But we have airfield maintenance vehicles and sweepers ready to go.”
Some flight delays reached more than two hours, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Attorney Al Lasso, who moved to Las Vegas from New Jersey 25 years ago, snapped a photo of a ruler standing in 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) of snow on his back patio in the foothill community of Summerlin.
“When it snows in New Jersey, everyone stays inside. When it snows in Las Vegas, everyone goes outside and makes snow angels,” Lasso said during his slow, 15-mile commute into the city. “A lot of people have never seen snow here.”
Forecasters say the snowfall could reach 3 inches by Friday on western and southern outskirts of the city, but rain could reduce accumulation.
McCarran airport recorded 3.6 inches (9.1 centimeters) on Dec. 17, 2008.
Las Vegas schools were open, but the Clark County School District canceled after-school programs in anticipation of freezing conditions on the roads.
Nevada Trooper Jason Buratczuk said he saw almost a foot of accumulated snow in some suburban areas, and chains were required for vehicles on the main highway through a mountain pass between Las Vegas and Pahrump.
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for the Las Vegas metropolitan area until early Friday morning.
Rain showers were expected throughout the afternoon. But as temperatures drop closer to freezing later Thursday, more snow could fall, meteorologist Jenn Varian said.