Feet of snow to bury, shut down travel in southwestern US late this week
By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
February 20, 2019, 12:06:38 PM EST
A late-week storm with a reinforcing shot of cold air will bring snow to both the high and low elevations of the western United States, with the potential for a significant snowfall in the Southwest.
This resurgence of snow and cold follows a storm that brought the Grapevine in Southern California to a standstill and Las Vegas its second snowfall of the season on Sunday night.
Heavy snow continued to bury New Mexico into Tuesday as the first storm finished up.
These areas will only have a brief dry break before the next wave of wintry conditions overspread the region spanning Wednesday and Thursday.
“An abnormally cold storm system is expected to swing southward along the West coast during the middle of the week,” said AccuWeather Storm Warning Meteorologist Joseph Bauer.
The Pacific Northwest was the first area to feel the effects of the storm late Tuesday into Wednesday, with coastal rain showers and snow in the interior.
Residents in Spokane, Washington; Bend, Oregon; and Boise, Idaho, can also expect several inches of snow and disruptions to travel and daily routines.
Snowflakes can mix with rain in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, for part of the storm, but a repeat of the snow events from earlier in February is not in the cards.
AccuWeather meteorologists expect the storm to strengthen and gain moisture as it sweeps into the Southwest beyond midweek.
“By Thursday morning, snow will begin across the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains in Southern California to central Arizona around Flagstaff,” Bauer said.
Heavy snow will spread through eastern Arizona and western New Mexico later Thursday into Friday.
In Southern California, snow levels are expected to drop to similar levels as what was experienced to end this past weekend, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski.
This will result in more travel difficulties and potential closures of the Grapevine along I-5, as well as Cajon Pass. These areas are likely to receive several inches of snow.
Interstate 5 from Grapevine to Castaic could see significant travel impacts with very cold storm system Wednesday afternoon through Thursday evening. Check latest road conditions and be prepared for travel delays. #LArain #LAWeather #cawx— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) February 20, 2019
“With this system being accompanied by abnormally cold air, freezing levels will be quite low for this event, bringing heavy snow to lower elevations which do not frequently receive snow,” Bauer said.
This includes in Las Vegas, where it is not out of the question for the city to pick up an inch or more of snow from the storm.
Early Monday morning, snow fell around Las Vegas and brought a small accumulation to part of the region.
Another chance for accumulating snowfall is in the cards for the city later this week.
"The higher terrain in parts of Arizona and western New Mexico may receive 1-3 feet of snow from the storm to end the week," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
This includes around Flagstaff, Arizona, where the storm from Saturday to Monday brought 16.6 inches of snow.
Flagstaff is no stranger to giant snowstorms, despite its southern location surrounded by deserts. The city is located in the Arizona mountains at an elevation near 7,000 feet.
The biggest storm on record in Flagstaff brought 64 inches of snow and concluded on Jan. 17, 1985. The snowiest month on record was January 1895, when 126 inches of snow fell on Flagstaff.
The storm coming up later this week may not only be the biggest of the year but perhaps the biggest since January 2010.
Travel will be dangerous and nearly impossible during the height of the storm as the snow falls at a rapid pace and visibility is reduced, including along I-40.
“Disruptions to logistical operations are expected, including transportation delays and road and interstate closures,” Bauer said.
School closures and airline delays are also likely.
It is not out of the question that enough cold air is in place for accumulating snow to fall as far south as Tucson, Arizona, during the tail end of the storm.
Continue to check back with AccuWeather.com to receive the latest details on this upcoming storm, and download the free AccuWeather app to see the latest forecast for your area.
"The heavy snowfall over the mountains will go a long way toward replenishing reservoirs and filling area streams and rivers during the spring," Sosnowski said. "However, it may also increase the odds of a substantial flooding event should a warm storm with heavy rain hit while there is still heavy snow on the ground."
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