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January 29, 2023

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An Unlucky Seven: When nature has lashed out in Nevada

Steve Marcus POY 2010

Steve Marcus

Lightning flashes over Strip casinos as a thunderstorm passes through the Las Vegas Valley on Tuesday, October 19, 2010. The thunderstorm lit up the sky over Las Vegas but only brought rainfall amounts that ranged from a few hundredths of an inch up to two-tenths of an inch, the weather service said. Download this photo as computer wallpaper.


Five-year-old Kathlene Meyers catches flakes during a rare winter snow in Las Vegas in 1930. The last big snowfall came on Jan. 31, 1979 when 7.4 inches accumulated. Normally standing snow only occurs near the valley's neighboring mountains. Launch slideshow »

Haunted by the tragic images of natural disasters from the Midwest and South, we are reminded that when it comes to Mother Nature, we are more closely aligned with Lady Luck. We do not live in tornado alley. Nor are we pounded by hurricanes, afflicted with forest fires, regularly rocked by earthquakes or driven from our homes by overflowing rivers.

To be sure, Nevada has experienced weather-related deaths. But compared with elsewhere, the Silver State has largely been spared. Here are some of our most notable weather-related events.

      1. July 2005: Heat wave scorches Las Vegas

      Seventeen people died in Southern Nevada when high temperatures persisted from July 14-23. The high temperature in that stretch was 117 degrees. Forecasters called it the deadliest stretch of hot weather in the Las Vegas Valley, but they noted that underlying medical issues aggravated by the heat could have contributed to the deaths.

      2. Sept. 14, 1974: Flash flood hits Nelson’s Landing

      A flash flood killed at least nine people at Nelson’s Landing, which is in Eldorado Canyon. Rain runoff from the nearby mountains produced the deadly flash flood, a wall of water and debris reported to be about 40 feet high. Meteorologists said the official death toll was nine, but there could have been unknown victims.

      3. Sept. 10, 1984: Flash flood kills Las Vegas travelers

      A flash flood in the Las Vegas Valley killed five people who were attempting to cross a road in a pickup truck.

      4. Nov. 15, 1964: Plane crash outside Las Vegas kills 28

      A Bonanza Airlines flight crashed into mountains during an early snowstorm. Twenty-eight people aboard the flight from Phoenix died on impact. Investigators largely concluded that the plane crashed because of poor visibility.

      5. Feb. 25, 1969: Mount Charleston avalanche kills two

      An avalanche on Mount Charleston destroyed a house in its path, killing a woman and her son. In 2005, another avalanche killed a teenager at the ski resort.

      6. Sept. 16, 1961: One dies in Las Vegas thunderstorm

      A mighty thunderstorm rattled Las Vegas, killing one person and injuring 31. The injuries were attributed mostly to flying glass and debris whipped up by strong winds.

      7. Feb. 21, 2008: Earthquake damages town’s historic district

      A 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit near Wells in Elko County. No serious injuries were reported, but the quake damaged buildings in the town’s historic district.

      Costliest weather events in Nevada

      • Snowmelt spawned a flood in downtown Reno in January 1997. Mixed with rain, the snowmelt caused the Truckee River to flood on New Year’s Day, causing $640 million in damage.

      • Massive thunderstorms in Las Vegas on July 18, 1994, injured 10 people. The storm’s high winds contributed to $50 million in damage.

    (Sources: Chris Stachelski, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Las Vegas field office; Guy Rocha, former state archivist, and U.S. Geological Survey records)

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