Storm with high winds, heavy snow, keeps grip on Southwest
PHOENIX (AP) — A winter storm knocked out power to thousands of customers and shut down major roadways in northern Arizona and New Mexico on Wednesday and is expected to keep an icy grip on much of the Southwest through Friday. Another storm could be close behind.
Ten inches (25 centimeters) of snow was reported in the mountains of northeast Arizona, with wind-whipped drifts up to 2 feet (61 centimeters) high near McNary, south of Holbrook, the National Weather Service said.
Another 15 to 21 inches (38 to 43 centimeters) is possible by midday Friday in Flagstaff, where the local National Weather Service office was among those without power much of Wednesday.
It said the heaviest snow was expected Thursday afternoon into the night, with periods of “near-blizzard conditions possible,” snowfall up to a half-inch (1.2 centimeters) per hour and visibility under a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) at times.
“Unnecessary travel is HIGHLY discouraged,” the service in Flagstaff said. “Unsettled winter weather will continue Thursday through early Friday, and again Saturday night through Sunday.”
Meanwhile, a blizzard warning was in effect through Saturday in upper elevations of the southern Sierra Nevada above Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
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Wind chill factors could drop to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus-40 Celsius). As much as 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow is possible there with winds gusting to 60 mph (96 kph) before the next storm makes its way across Nevada into Arizona, the weather service said.
Farther north at Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada line, a foot (30 cm) or more of snow was expected on the ridgetops, with winds gusting up to 75 mph (120 kph).
“A cold and stormy period will continue through the end of February and into the beginning of March,” the National Weather Service in Reno said. “Anticipate several rounds of snow at all elevations. ... High temperatures will struggle to get out of the 30s, even in the warmest valleys through Friday.”
In Arizona, stretches of Interstate 40 reopened Wednesday, but the road remained closed into Wednesday evening in both directions out of Flagstaff for about 180 miles (289 km) from Winslow to U.S. 93 at Kingman near the California and Nevada borders.
State police in New Mexico said they were shutting down I-40 on-ramps in Gallup, just across the Arizona line, but would keep one open for residents and drivers seeking overnight accommodations “due to extreme weather.”
More than 5,700 homes were without power in the morning in metro Phoenix along with 10,000 in the Flagstaff area, where snowfall and wind gusts of 68 mph caused whiteout conditions.
The highest gusts in Arizona registered 85 mph (136 kph) off I-17, about halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix, the service said. The Arizona Department of Transportation took the rare step of preemptively closing major roads.
High wind gusts also resulted in 66 flights being canceled and 45 others delayed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport by 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The National Weather Service said a gust of 51 mph (82 kph) at Tucson International Airport was the strongest recorded in February in the last 50 years.