Storms dump heavy snowfall in northern Arizona after leaving California a muddy mess


PHOENIX (AP) — 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.

The mountainous region of northern Arizona recorded 2 feet of snowfall 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. I-17 later reopened but portions of I-40 remained closed Thursday night.

Dennis Fritsch, a trucker, was en route from Georgia to Reno, Nevada, where he has a delivery due Friday. He pulled over at a truck stop along I-40 in Bellemont, Arizona, anticipating the roadway would be shut down after the temperature dropped and the sun disappeared.

“It’s pretty brutal, actually," he said.

Longtime Bellemont resident Rick Schuler, who was clearing his and a neighbor’s driveway, was taking it in stride as his dog, Dakota, ran around in deep snow.

“Just enjoying this beautiful weather, plowing snow, playing with the dog, enjoying it,” he said.

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 first-round play at the Phoenix Open golf tournament.

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.

A new front then roared down the California coast on Wednesday, unleashing downpours and damaging winds that included a weak tornado near Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo County.

State officials tallied nine storm-related deaths, not including five Marines killed in the crash of a military helicopter late Tuesday night east of San Diego. Officials have not said if the weather was a factor.

The storms also spawned destructive mudslides — more than 500 in the city of LA alone, where at least 16 buildings have been deemed uninhabitable and 33 others have been yellow-tagged, meaning residents can go in to retrieve belongings but cannot stay. Experts say soils are so saturated the threat of landslides will persist.