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Ice, Snow and Cold, Even In the Sunny Southwest

December 11, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Freezing rain left ice up to an inch thick Wednesday on highways across the Plains, wind chill temperatures in Wyoming hit 51 degrees below zero, and Phoenix, Ariz., got its first measurable snow in more than 40 years.

The weather had been blamed for at least 17 deaths this week, all but one of them on icy highways.

Cold air forcing its way into Texas dropped the temperature 25 degrees in 15 minutes Wednesday and some highways became skating rinks, but it also triggered rain that flooded roads in eastern Texas.

Freezing rain fell from Texas through Oklahoma, into Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and the lower Great Lakes region, as well as central New England, with inch- thick ice reported in northern and central Missouri.

″It’s not a rare occasion (for ice to be spread so widely this time of year). It happens about every year, but this much of an accumulation is unusual,″ said Harry Gordon of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Mo.

A tenth of an inch of snow fell at Phoenix, and the National Weather Service said it was the first measurable snow there since Feb. 2, 1939, although traces fell this past February. Thousands of people, nicknamed ″snowbirds,″ move to the city for the winter to escape snow.

Not many people were up in time to see the snow, but police said they rushed outside before it turned to rain to toss a few snowballs and build a snowman. And five officers sang a few bars of ″White Christmas.″

Officer Jim Hass, a Phoenix native, said he recalled a snowfall about 10 years ago. ″But this is incredible. This is weird.″

Snow also fell on parts of Las Vegas, Nev., but not enough for an official measurement, the weather service said. The desert city’s last measurable snowfall was 10 inches in January 1979.

A storm that lashed southern California late Tuesday also dropped an inch of snow on Van Nuys, 15 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, catching meteorologists unprepared.

″They’re building snowmen in the (San Fernando) Valley? Aw, come on, I don’t believe it,″ said weather service forecaster Betty Reo.

But, in fact, there was a snowman in Sal Cardaro’s front yard in Encino. ″I’ve never seen it snow in the Valley, and I wanted to prove it,″ he said.

Parts of the Texas Panhandle had 6 inches of snow Wednesday, and a cold front dropped temperatures around Houston by 25 degrees in 15 minutes before 5 a.m., the weather service said.

Freezing rain and snow iced roads in the Panhandle and western Texas in time for morning rush hour. ″It’s beginning to look like a used-car lot,″ one Fort Worth officer said of accident-strewn Loop 820, which circles the city.

Heavy rain flooded rural roads and underpasses in eastern Texas. Water was reported on Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas, and water closed frontage roads along I-45 between Dallas and Ennis. About three feet of water covered a rural Delta County road, police said. Two rare December tornadoes injured at least three people Tuesday in central Texas.

Casper, Wyo., dropped to 19 degrees below zero, down from the previous record of 14 below. Billings, Mont., hit 12 below, 5 degrees off the former record, and Missoula, Mont., tied its record of 15 below. Casper warmed to 12 below by 6 a.m., but a 15 mph wind created a wind chill of 51 below zero.

″It gets cold in Wyoming in December,″ said meteorologist Jack Daseler, but he added: ″It’s kind of tough to break records unless it gets outrageously cold.″

Scottsbluff, Neb., tied its record low of 22 below, and the weather service said an observer near Harrisburg reported a low of 27 below zero.

The Wyoming cities of Lander and Riverton, where snow is 26 to 36 inches deep, have exhausted their snow removal budgets and are asking the state for financial help.

Riverton City Administrator Bill Peterson said the town has already spent the $25,000 set aside for snow removal, and costs already this season could top $55,000. ″This is a record snowfall at a time when we didn’t need a record snowfall,″ he said.

Traffic accidents on icy highways killed 11 people Tuesday in Kansas, three people in Minnesota, and two in Texas. And a 69-year-old man died of a heart attack Mnday in Colorado while shoveling snow.

Update hourly