They started arriving at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign as the first big snowflakes began to fall Wednesday night — landing softly and slowly, turning the green artificial turf around it white.
Debbie Dixon was so excited, she laughed and clapped and tried to take selfies with her friends to capture the moment of pure, unadulterated joy of feeling the snow hit her face and collect on her jacket.
“One. Two. Three,” the 44-year-old Henderson, Nev., resident said as she and her friends crowded into the frame of the smartphone.
Around her, people posed in front of the sign, its bright lights illuminating the falling flakes. Across Las Vegas Boulevard, snow began accumulating on the wings of airplanes at McCarran International Airport.
It was the second time in a week Las Vegas has been hit with snow. Dixon dismissed Sunday’s storm as weak compared to what the region got Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. “That was OK,” she said. “But this is really snowing.”
The National Weather Service in Las Vegas reported Thursday morning that the official snowfall for Feb. 20 in Las Vegas was 0.5 inches — breaking a daily snowfall record for the date. It also reported that it was the second latest date in winter when a half-inch or more was ever recorded. That record was set on Feb. 25, 1987, when 0.6 inches fell.
The single-day record for snowfall in Las Vegas was 7.4 inches on Jan. 31, 1979.
With wintry conditions expected to continue, the Clark County School District announced late Thursday afternoon it was canceling classes Friday due to potential freezing on the roads and the hazard that could pose for school buses.
McCarran sits at an elevation of about 2,000 feet, and the western edge of the city that leads into Red Rock Canyon climbs upwards of 3,500 feet. Since 1937, the city has seen more than an inch of snowfall 20 times. But Wednesday was only the second day in two decades with measurable snow at McCarran, National Weather Service meteorologist Jenn Varian said.
Christine Crews, spokeswoman at McCarran, said that as of 8:30 a.m. Thursday, about a hundred flights were canceled and delays were averaging about two hours.
She said the airport has only two scrapers and some sweepers to assist with scraping icy runways.
With temperatures falling into the low 30s heading into Wednesday evening, the city and Clark County had been bracing for a storm receiving the sort of hype reserved for a new residency opening up at a casino on the Strip.
The rumor mill at Sig Rogich Elementary School (named after a former U.S. ambassador to Iceland) was in snowpocalypse mode Wednesday afternoon as students whispered about a dream scenario where schools were closed for a snow day.
Clark County School District dashed those high hopes at 4:30 a.m., announcing via social media that all schools would indeed be open.
“All reports indicate that it is safe to drive on the roads,” the district tweeted. “We will continue to monitor the weather conditions and keep our families and community up-to-date on any changes. We will determine by mid-day whether to have after-school activities based on weather conditions.”
By late afternoon, the district decided on the Friday closure.
While the measurable National Weather Service totals were under an inch, areas west of Las Vegas were reporting unofficial totals of 5.5 inches — mainly in the neighborhood of Summerlin.
Mount Charleston, where the Lee Canyon Ski Resort is located, received about two feet of snow, Varian said.
Snowmen began popping up in neighborhood parks Wednesday night. Sleds left tracks on once-grassy hills.
Ever the gambling city, Las Vegas bookmakers talked odds in inches.
“I think snow-day odds might be 15/1 now,” tweeted Patrick Everson of Covers.com.
Jay Kornagay, Westgate Hotel and Casino vice president of sports operations, tweeted throughout the day Wednesday that the odds of snow were dropping — 60-1, then 25-1 and, finally, 12-1. For entertainment purposes only, of course.
On the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday night, the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino was taking people up the elevator, but the outside observation deck was closed due to the snow and wind. Luxor Hotel and Casino became a snow-capped pyramid as the accumulation settled on its slanted sides. Parking lots were filled with cars covered with layers of snow.
But the snow wasn’t sticking to the black road, which glistened with wetness and reflected the bright lights of marquees and brake lights. At each traffic light, windows on cars rolled down and arms were stuck out as people recorded the snowfall with smartphones. The Aria Hotel and Casino’s sign could be seen through a light, low-hanging fog that gave the effect of a soft-focus camera filter.
Clark County, which has jurisdiction over the Strip, has four snow plows at the ready, which are mostly used for mountain and high-elevation roads. The city of Las Vegas, which includes Fremont Street, does not have a snow plow.
Las Vegas also began advertising shelters for the homeless Wednesday night.
Juan Magdaleno, 60, who was headed to one near downtown, said he’d tried to sleep under a bus stop shelter, but there was enough of a breeze to blow the wet snow all over him. With snow predicted all night, he figured he’d try to get shelter from the storm.
“I hope they have room,” he said as he toted his belongings — including a soaking wet blanket and pillow — behind him on the dark sidewalk. They did.
Varian said the snowfall was the result of “a cold core” that was moving through the region. She said spotters in Kingman were reporting a foot of snow and that two highways heading into the Arizona city were closed as of 8 a.m.
The Nevada Highway Patrol closed Interstate 15 at Primm at around noon Thursday, citing hazardous conditions between Baker, Calif., and the Nevada state line. Earlier, the Nevada Department of Transportation closed Interstate 11 south to Kingman due to snowy conditions.
The Nevada Highway Patrol offered no time frame on when I-15 would reopen and told travelers to expect delays.
Varian said the snow was likely to turn to rain heading into the afternoon and it could develop into snow again Thursday night.