FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A large and powerful storm howled across the West with snow and strong winds Monday, snarling traffic, closing schools and threatening to spawn mudslides in wildfire-devastated Southern California.
Virtually the entire region was suffering, from subzero wind chills in Washington state to heavy snow that closed schools and government offices in Reno, Nev., and left big rigs jackknifed across highways in several states. Blizzard warnings were in effect for northern Arizona and parts of Colorado, with forecasters predicting up to 2 feet of snow around Flagstaff.
The National Weather Service said the upper elevations of the Sierra mountains could get up to 3 feet of snow, with up to 4 feet forecast for the mountains of southern Utah. Even the hills east of San Francisco Bay received a rare dusting overnight, and snow was predicted for Fresno and other communities in California's Central Valley.
Bad weather stretched far to the east as well. The first snow of the season for much of Indiana snarled traffic and delayed schools. Crashes left one person dead.
Reno schools closed and all nonessential state government workers, except public safety personnel, were told to stay home. Chains or snow tires were required across the region. Several flights into and out of Reno-Tahoe International were delayed or canceled.
"Motorists are going to have to chain up," Trooper Chuck Allen with the Nevada Highway Patrol said. "Otherwise, we end up with a parking lot."
Deputy City Manager Jim Wine said snowfall is pretty routine for Flagstaff, which sits at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet. But winds of 30 mph with gusts of up to 50 mph are a concern because they could cause power outages and whiteout driving conditions, he said.
Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Rod Wigman vowed to keep northern Arizona roads plowed despite a $100 million budget deficit, but advised people to stay home if possible as the brunt of the storm sweeps through in the afternoon and evening.
"When the sun goes down, people need to go home," Wigman said.
Southern California was largely escaping the snow, but heavy rain — up to 4 inches was forecast in some areas — sparked concerns of mudslides. The foothill areas below the wildfire-scarred Angeles National Forest were barricaded with sandbags and concrete barriers, some decorated with Christmas garlands. Several roads in the San Gabriel Mountains, a few miles northeast of Los Angeles, were closed.
Residents of foothill towns such as La Canada Flintridge were urged to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. Bob Spencer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works warned people to keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to flee.
In San Diego, the National Weather Service issued a warning of high winds as the storm front approached. Gust of up to 60 mph were forecast, especially along the coast, foothills and deserts.
Two more storms, this time from the tropical Pacific, were expected to arrive on Thursday and Saturday.
One of those storms was churning waves up to 50 feet high off Hawaii's beaches, drawing hundreds of people to Oahu's North Shore.
Todd Heitkamp of the National Weather Service says the storm expected in the Plains on Tuesday should hit hardest in Iowa and Nebraska, which already reported several inches of snow by midday Monday. New Mexico officials prepared for 12-hour shifts for snow-clearing crews as the storm swept south and east.