Storms dump heavy rain, snow on parts of West

An SUV lays on its side after sliding off a snow packed off ramp at I-17 and Airport Road in Flagstaff, Ariz. , Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010.

PHOENIX — Western states battled nasty winter weather that shut down major roads in Arizona, blasted California and Nevada with frigid winds and left an area of western Washington in a white-out.

The storms systems across parts of the West Wednesday dumped heavy snows in some mountainous regions and soaking rains in lower elevations, cutting power to thousands and causing numerous traffic tie-ups and accidents.

The storms even intruded on the normally pleasant winter weather in the Phoenix desert area, delivering an hours-long chilly rain and leaving residents bracing for a rare below-freezing dip in temperatures Friday.

Snow and ice forced the closure of parts of Arizona’s main north-south thoroughfare, I-17, stranding motorists south of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.

“As far as I can see, it’s tail lights,” said Abel Gurrola, who was headed north with his wife and three sons.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said it received more than 100 calls reporting slide-offs in a three-hour period, including semi trucks.

The snow left visibility down to a half-mile around the Grand Canyon and a quarter-mile in Flagstaff, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Breckenridge said.

Highway 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff was shut at least until Thursday afternoon. State Route 87 was re-opened after a multi-vehicle collision just south of Payson in central Arizona.

A blizzard warning was issued in parts of eastern and southeastern Arizona, and forecasters warned the system would likely move into neighboring New Mexico Thursday.

The latest round of rain to hit waterlogged California moved east, leaving powerful winds in its wake.

Gusts of more than 50 mph hit parts of northern Los Angeles County late Wednesday, with colder air and potentially damaging winds expected overnight.

The California Highway Patrol reported downed trees and tumbleweeds on various Los Angeles-area freeways and streets, making it treacherous for motorists.

One person was killed by a falling tree and a snowboarder was missing. The U.S. Coast Guard searched in strong winds and high seas for a 20-foot pleasure boat reported to be in distress with four people aboard.

Winds were even stronger further east.

The storm socked the Sierra Nevada with gusts topping 100 mph and more than a foot of snow, causing flight delays in Reno, Nev., and headaches for motorists.

Utility crews worked to restore power to more than 10,000 homes and businesses around South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Nevada’s strongest wind gust was recorded at 105 mph at Mammoth Lakes ski resort.

Heavy snow and icy roads made travel tough in the Spokane area of eastern Washington, which was hit by 9 inches of snow, while knocking out power to 6,000 customers.

Blizzard conditions blew through Palouse, near the Idaho line. Wind gusts of more than 30 mph “will create white-out conditions over the rural areas of the Palouse. Travel will be dangerous or impossible,” the National Weather Service said.

Wyoming and Colorado didn’t escape the Western blitz.

Storms were expected to dump up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado’s mountains before things calm down Friday.

Jackson Hole had several inches of snow with higher totals in the mountains. Winter storm warnings were in effect from Yellowstone and Teton National Parks.

An American Airlines jetliner went past the end of a snowy runway at Jackson Hole Airport. No one was hurt and no cause has yet been officially determined. The pilot blamed brake failure.