National

Winter storm ties up big parts of U.S. West

BELLEMONT, Ariz. —A winter storm pummeled the western U.S. on Thursday with fierce wind gusts, heavy rain and more than 2 feet of snow, closing hundreds of miles of roads and dumping a snowy mix of precipitation on the edges of Phoenix.

Officials closed a road into Yosemite National Park in California after a rock the size of a dump truck tumbled onto the road. Strong winds created snow dunes on rooftops, front yards and streets across mountainous areas of Arizona.

Snow and ice forced an hours-long closure of the two major thoroughfares in northern Arizona, stranding motorists south of the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff. People in Phoenix were stunned at the sight of snow-type flurries that the National Weather Service said were a combination of hail and snow that melts before it hits the ground.

Drivers wanting to know how to get around the storms overwhelmed an Arizona hotline that provides automated updates on road conditions. State Department of Transportation spokesman Timothy Tait said the line took in 1.2 million calls in a 12-hour span Thursday.

Dorothy Brooks of Dallas was creeping along I-40 at 20 mph on her way to Las Vegas, passing vehicles stuck on the side of the road, when she pulled into a Bellemont gas station to wait out the storm.

"It's devastating," she said, above the cry of a 9-month-old baby she was pushing through the aisles. "You can't call Mother Nature anyway. You never know when she's going to burst out."

The Silverton Mountain resort in Colorado reported 22 inches of snow, but only about 120 people were on the mountain because officials closed highways leading to the ski area.

The weather service said snow could fall at a rate close to an inch an hour starting Thursday evening in the Denver area, which usually has around 25 inches of snow by this time of the season but had just 1.5 inches so far.

Southwestern New Mexico was being hit with blizzard conditions that were forecast to continue through midnight Thursday. Winds of up to 65 mph, heavy snow and rapidly falling temperatures made travel difficult if not impossible, forecasters said.

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