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Storms dump heavy snow in Northern Arizona

Californians greet clear skies after days of downpours

By Walter Berry and John Antczak, Associated Press
Published: February 8, 2024, 8:24pm

PHOENIX — Heavy snow shut down parts of major interstates in northern Arizona on Thursday while low-lying clouds delayed dozens of flights in Phoenix, after storms earlier this week battered California and left a muddy mess.

Forecasters in the mountainous region of northern Arizona recorded double-digit snowfall — 2 feet or more in some locations — with more expected into the weekend. Snow, ice and whiteout conditions forced partial closures of Interstates 40 and 17 in and around Flagstaff, Northern Arizona’s largest city.

Schools around Northern Arizona, including Northern Arizona University, called snow days.

Farther south, rain hit the state’s desert regions. A low cloud ceiling briefly shut down all flights in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport — the state’s largest airport. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for 45 minutes Thursday morning, delaying more than 100 flights, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. The rainy weather also disrupted the Phoenix Open.

In California, the clear skies over most of the state were welcomed after days of wind, rain and heavy snowfall that caused power outages, street flooding and hundreds of destructive mudslides. The extremely wet weather marked a major turnabout from a very slow start to winter.

It was prime ski weather in the Sierra Nevada, where more snow fell Thursday at one Lake Tahoe ski resort and at Mammoth Mountain south of Yosemite National Park. Mammoth had already reported as much as 5 feet of snow since Sunday.

An area east of Los Angeles, aptly named Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, got almost as much snow as parts of the eastern Sierra, the National Weather Service said. Several times, snow completely buried an eagle named Jackie, whose care for three eggs in a nest is widely watched via a webcam, the Friends of Big Bear Valley said on its Facebook page.

The five-day rainfall total in downtown Los Angeles topped 9 inches, more than half of the 14.25 inches it normally gets per year, while other parts of the city received more than a foot.

Meanwhile, the risk of avalanches in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles kept searchers from continuing the hunt for a woman who vanished Sunday while hiking alone on Mount Baldy. San Bernardino County authorities say Lifei Huang, 22, of El Monte, was last heard from Sunday afternoon as a storm moved into the area. Baldy is known to be treacherous in winter and last year claimed the lives of several hikers, including actor Julian Sands.

The exceptional precipitation in California began last weekend, when extraordinary low pressure spinning off the coast hauled in an atmospheric river. Northern California was blasted with fierce winds, and the huge plume of moisture then rained on the south for days.