Snow made drivers fume

What a mess.

That phrase sort of summed up the commute Wednesday evening as Las Vegas got pounded with 3.6 inches of slushy snow.

And in the face of Mother Nature's cruel joke -- snow in a desert -- Las Vegans did not react well.

Quiet, dignity and grace were not to be seen. Impatience, anger and frustration prevailed among motorists.

The impertinence of drivers seemed directed at authorities, whether law enforcement or public works crews.

"Why did they close the road to Parhump?" one reader seethed to me on the phone.

And how about that four-hour ride on Eastern Avenue, from Interstate 215 to Anthem Parkway?

Another reader regaled me with a tale about how Nevada Highway Patrol troopers closed U.S. Highway 93 to Boulder City for hours because of the storm.

His wife was forced to "pee in a cup," the reader said.

In the face of the type of storm that comes through the valley once every three decades or so, local officials defended their actions.

The Transportation Department had 13 snow plows and sanders working to clear roads and spread 1,800 yards of a sand-salt mix over mountain roads, more than half of the yearly supply allocated to Southern Nevada.

Was it enough?

I think it's fair to say that local snow clearing equipment was stretched thinner than Napoleon's army during his Russian invasion.

Rudy Malfabon, the Transportation Department's deputy director for Southern Nevada, said the storm "hit bad on the south end of town and a lot of folks probably took chances and were frustrated with the road conditions. We tried to cover everything as best we could. We couldn't be everywhere at once."

The department borrowed equipment from Ely and Tonopah; but the storm soon hit regions north of the valley, and that equipment was recalled.

The situation in Boulder City seems to have caused the most complaints.

Malfabon explained the driving conditions were hazardous because of reduced visibility and slippery roads because of the constant snowfall. And it was easier to plow U.S. 93 when a lot of vehicles weren't backed up on the roadway, he said.

Though some Boulder City locals were allowed to push on through to their homes, the Transportation Department felt it would be unsafe to let motorists travel on to Arizona. So the number of motorists allowed on U.S. 93 was limited, Malfabon said.

Trooper Kevin Honea of the Nevada Highway Patrol told me officers "got called some not so nice names" during the storm.

Motorists stuck on U.S. 93 or down in Primm on Interstate 15 seemed to spit out the most venomous phrases, Honea said, though he would not go into specifics.

It wasn't the Highway Patrol that ordered the roads closed, but troopers still bore the brunt of criticism.

"It's never easy or pleasant to have to tell someone they can't drive to their home," he said. "But our overall goal was the safety of everyone on the road."

Bobby Shelton with the Clark County Public Works Department said the storm could have been a nightmare scenario.

Let's face it, we live in a desert climate and not a lot of money is invested in snow removal equipment, Shelton said.

"We have two snow plows, two snow blowers and two graders," Shelton said. And most of that equipment was stuck up at Mount Charleston, Cold Creek and Columbia Pass, he said.

"We wanted it to continue snowing. If it turned to rain and then to ice ... it would have been much worse. With 3 to 5 inches of snow, we knew Mother Nature would take care of it pretty quickly" once it warmed up, Shelton said.

In the meantime, despite the complaints, Malfabon said his crews handled the situation as well as they could.

"Thankfully, this doesn't happen too often," he said.

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