A rare winter storm swept through Southern Nevada Wednesday, dumping the most snow on the valley in nearly three decades, grounding flights at the airport, forcing the closure of major highways and closing schools for today.
"This is the most snow we've had in Las Vegas in almost 30 years," said Chris Stachelski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "It's a significant historical event."
The heaviest snowfall occurred in the southeast valley, where about 3 inches of snow had accumulated by 7:45 p.m., with unconfirmed reports of as much as 6 inches in Henderson, he said.
Between 6 to 10 inches could fall in that area by the time the storm tapers off Thursday morning, and the northern and western parts of the valley could receive up to 4 inches of snowfall, he said.
The storm dumped 11 inches of snow on Mount Charleston.
Wednesday's snowfall in the valley was the most since 1979, when 7.8 inches fell in a 48-hour period beginning Jan. 30. The snowfall record was set in January 1949 with 9.7 inches falling over two days, according to the weather service.
The weather prompted the Clark County School District to close all schools today. A decision was pending Wednesday night on whether athletic events would take place. Bishop Gorman High School and Faith Lutheran Jr./Sr. High School were among the private schools canceling classes.
Parents at charter and private schools should call their school offices for closure information.
Outgoing flights at McCarran International Airport were grounded Wednesday afternoon because of the snowfall and poor visibility. Incoming flights were cancelled, said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Gregor said the airport doesn't have snow removal or deicing equipment, which means there's no way for snow-covered planes to leave safely.
Airport officials said normal flight operations would resume when the weather improved.
As flights were canceled, erstwhile passengers lined up in the ticketing area in search of other flights.
A long line snaked back and forth in front of the Southwest Airlines windows, but several people waiting there said they had experienced longer waits on other days.
It was a similar story outside, where stranded travelers waited up to 30 minutes for taxis to take them back to the Strip for one more night. Contrary to rumors of three-hour cab lines, airport officials said the waits were not much longer than they might be on any busy evening.
Among the airport's stranded were Sam and Dawn Wills and their two children, daughter Talia, 3, and son Brady, 9 months.
They staked out a patch of carpet in a second-floor hallway, near some restrooms and drinking fountains, where Dawn spooned orange baby food into Brady's mouth.
They hadn't quite decided, but they were leaning toward spending the night there. To catch the next flight to Stockton, Calif., they had to be back in line by 4 a.m. today.
The kids seemed to be handling the situation pretty well, but Sam wasn't sure how much longer that would last.
"We're about 45 minutes from bedtime for him," he said of Brady. "It's a countdown right now."
Added Dawn with a tired smile, "We'd like to be somewhere besides the floor."
The snow also foiled travel plans for drivers on several of Southern Nevada's busy highways. Interstate 15 was closed at Primm, U.S. Highway 95 was closed from Railroad Pass and the California border, and state Route 160 was closed between Las Vegas and Pahrump.
State routes 163, 164 and 165 were also closed.
All of the closures were expected to continue through the night, the Nevada Department of Transportation said.
For roads at Mountain Springs and Mount Charleston, chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive were required for passage.
Authorities reported a smattering of minor, weather-related crashes but no serious accidents.
Transportation department crews were expected to spend the night using a liquid de-icer on part of the valley's freeway system, spokesman Bob McKenzie said. The liquid was to be spread over bridges, viaducts and areas most likely to freeze on I-15 and U.S. 95, he said.
Las Vegas public works crews were expected to be out early this morning and would clear and sand any roads as needed, said spokeswoman Debbie Ackerman said.
Clark County public works spokesman Bobby Shelton said the county's snow-clearing equipment, which consists of two snow plows, two snow blowers and two graders, were all on the outskirts of Southern Nevada, at Mount Charleston, Cold Creek and Columbia Pass. None of the equipment would be available for clearing valley roads Thursday morning, Shelton said.
He advised folks to stay home if possible until weather and road conditions improved.
Stachelski from the weather service predicted Wednesday's snowfall totals would rank between the sixth to eighth heaviest on record.
Other records are sure to fall.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the 2 inches of snow that fell in Las Vegas tied a record set on Dec. 15, 1967. Those two inches also set a valley record for snowfall in the month of December. Both records are expected to topple once the day's total snowfall is recorded.
Forecasts called for a 40 percent chance of rain and snow today, followed by partly sunny skies Friday.
Additional closures and information:
The City of Henderson Safekey and Teen Scene sites will be closed on Thursday due to the closure of all Clark County schools. Henderson recreation centers will delay opening until 8:00 am with the possibility of additional delays pending morning weather conditions.
Road crews continue to work on Eastern Avenue from I-215 to the Anthem community. Traffic volume has slowed and equipment is now able to focus efforts on clearing the roadways. Residents of the Anthem community are asked to continue to avoid the area if possible and find alternate routes for morning commutes.
Review-Journal reporters Henry Brean, Francis McCabe, Antonio Planas and Benjamin Spillman contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.