Vegas snow on New Year’s Eve is a roll of the dice

PHIL GRUCCI

LAS VEGAS (AP) — One fireworks coordinator has a request of Mother Nature in this city of glitzy shows: If you’re going to let it snow on New Year’s Eve, let it fall at the perfect moment — right before midnight when his show launches from the Las Vegas Strip.

Phil Grucci, president and creative director of Fireworks by Grucci, talked about the frosty forecast as he stood Tuesday atop the Treasure Island casino-hotel, one of seven hotel rooftops where 70 workers have been readying the displays since the day after Christmas.

And if it’s going to snow, it would be great if it stopped shortly after the show ends, he said.

Like large swaths of the Western U.S., Las Vegas is bracing for unusually cold weather as 2014 ends and 2015 starts — the low in the desert city on New Year’s Eve is forecast to be 32 degrees when about 340,000 people were expected to pack the Strip and Las Vegas’ downtown Fremont area for festivities.

The suburb of Henderson reported trace amounts early Wednesday, and snow flurries fell in the Las Vegas valley, but there were no reports of it sticking. But a layer of dry air was absorbing much of the precipitation before it reached the ground in the heart of Las Vegas, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Justin Pullin, and there was only a negligible chance of snow at night.

But snow was heavy enough in California to strand more than 180 motorists traveling in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. They were rescued by early Wednesday. The storm also dropped powder on very low elevations across inland Southern California and packed winds that toppled trees.

In Las Vegas, tourists walking the Strip on Tuesday took the cold snap in stride, especially those from the Midwest and Northwest.

“I think we brought the snow from Ohio,” said Lisa Richey, 38, who along with her sister and longtime friend came prepared for the chilly holiday.

Jared Corriveau, 24, also of Ohio, wore a T-shirt as he walked with his family outside and past people in coats with hands shoved deep into pockets, including Marcio Berri, 26, of Brazil.

“Who would expect snowing in Vegas?” Berri said.

He said he’d likely buy some new scarves and gloves before New Year’s Eve night, when he still planned to stand outside on the Strip with the masses.

“We’re gonna be in the street. It doesn’t matter how cold it is,” Berri said.

If Berri ends up in front of the Monte Carlo casino-hotel, he’ll have his pick of adult beverages from an outdoor bar, but there also will be coffee and hot chocolate — spiked or not.

Julie Pendergast, 33, and Travis Kearin, 32, left colder weather behind in Seattle, but they brought layers of winter coats with them. Kearin had been in Sin City years before, when he could wear shorts to ring in the new year.

Still, Pendergast was excited. “The sun’s nice. So I’m still happy,” she said.

If it snows, it’ll be fairly light and could be done altogether by 7 p.m. or so, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Stachelski said.

Wind posed another problem. But as of Tuesday, it appeared Grucci wouldn’t have to battle it. The weather service forecast wind during the day but expects it to die down to 5 to 10 mph by evening.

That 10 mph is the limit for Grucci’s show. “The wind is our nemesis,” he said.

Forecasts in Las Vegas pinned the area’s chances on New Year’s Eve snow, whether it’s a light dusting or more, at 60 percent. The last time any notable amount of snow stuck was Dec. 17, 2008.

Even with that level of confidence, snowball fights on the Strip are far from a sure bet. The unusual weather is part of a cold and “somewhat moist” storm that starting moving south across California into the Mojave Desert and Las Vegas, bringing snow to parts of northern Arizona and Utah, the weather service said.

Stachelski said the storm would start turning, bypassing most of Nevada, with the exception of the southern tip, and heading toward Arizona and New Mexico instead.

In New Mexico, snow, sleet and freezing fog combined to make for difficult driving conditions on numerous highways, particularly in the east.

In northern Arizona, up to 5 inches of snow had fallen by midmorning in parts of the Flagstaff area, and snowplows were clearing Interstate 40 and other highways.

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