Las Vegas to roll dice with cold New Year's Eve weather

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Fireworks coordinator Phil Grucci has a request of Mother Nature in this city of glitzy shows: If you're going to let it snow on New Year's Eve, let it snow at just the right moment, like right before midnight when his show launches from the Las Vegas Strip.

Grucci, president and creative director of Fireworks by Grucci, stood atop the Treasure Island casino-hotel on the Strip on Tuesday, one of seven hotel rooftops where 70 workers have been readying the displays since the day after Christmas.

And if it's going to snow, it would be great if the heavens put a stop to it shortly after the show ends, he said.

Like large swaths of the western U.S., Las Vegas is bracing for unusually cold weather as 2014 ends and 2015 starts. The low in the city is forecast to be 32 degrees, with the possibility of snow flurries.

Tourists walking around Treasure Island casino on Tuesday took the cold snap in stride, especially those from the Midwest and Northwest.

"I think we brought the snow from Ohio," said Lisa Richey, 38, who along with her sister and longtime friend came prepared for the chilly holiday.

Jared Corriveau, 24, also of Ohio, wore a T-shirt as he walked with his family outside and past people in coats with hands shoved deep into pockets, like Marcio Berri, 26, of Brazil.

"Who would expect snowing in Vegas?" Berri said.

He said he'd likely buy some new scarves, gloves before New Year's Eve night, when he still planned to stand outside on the Strip with the masses.

"We're gonna be in the street. It doesn't matter how cold it is," he said.

If Berri ends up in front of the Monte Carlo casino-hotel, he'll have his pick of adult beverages from an outdoor bar, but there will be coffee and hot chocolate, too, spiked or not.

Julie Pendergast, 33, and Travis Kearin, 32, left colder weather behind in Seattle, but they brought layers of winter coats with them for their Las Vegas New Year's Eve. Kearin had been here years before, a year when he could wear shorts to ring in the new year.

Still, Pendergast was excited. "The sun's nice. So I'm still happy," she said.

Other parts of the West expect to feel the chill New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

In Pasadena, California, the thousands of people who camp overnight or gather early to watch the annual Rose Parade will face an icy New Year's morning as temperatures fall near or below freezing across much of southwest California, the National Weather Service said. Temperatures in parts of northern New Mexico on Tuesday dipped below zero as an Artic front moved across the state, bringing with it freezing temperatures and dangerous driving conditions. In eastern Washington, forecasters expect lows of 3 to 9 degrees, and highs Wednesday won't get out of the teens.

In Las Vegas, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Stachelski said that if it snows, it'll be fairly light on the Strip New Year's Eve morning and into the afternoon, but could be done altogether by 7 p.m. or so.

"The wind is our nemesis," Grucci said.

As of Tuesday, it was looking good he wouldn't have to do battle with it.

The National Weather Service is forecasting wind during the day, but the agency expects it to die down to 5 to 10 mph by evening.

That 10 mph is the limit for Grucci's show. With wind meters atop the roofs where the fireworks are launched, if it's that fast, there won't be a fireworks show.

Forecasts in Las Vegas pinned the area's chances on New Year's Eve snow whether it's a light dusting or more, first at 70 percent and later at 60 percent.

Even with that level of confidence, snowball fights on the Strip are far from a sure bet.

The unusual weather is part of a cold and "somewhat moist" storm that starting moving south across California into the Mojave Desert and Las Vegas, bringing snow to parts of northern Arizona and Utah, according to the weather service.

Stachelski said the storm would start turning Tuesday night, bypassing most of Nevada, with the exception of the southern tip, and heading toward Arizona and New Mexico instead.

He said the Interstate 40 corridor between Kingman and Flagstaff in Arizona would face significant snowfall.

Meteorologists have warned tourists in Las Vegas — much like a parent might — to "bring layers and dress warmly" and wear shoes with some good traction, not typical for revelers looking to stay fashionable on the social holiday.

Some 340,000 people are expected to pack the Strip and Las Vegas' downtown Fremont area for festivities.

If it does snow, airlines will need to bring their de-icing equipment for planes landing or taking off from Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. The airport doesn't have any snow removal gear on hand, and it isn't required to. The last time any notable amount stuck to the airport's runways was Dec. 17, 2008.

The main issue may be getting to or leaving Las Vegas. One of the main routes for Southern Californians — the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 — would pose a challenge for travelers Tuesday and Wednesday.