Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 | 2 a.m.
With a chance of snow in the forecast for New Year’s Eve, local and state government agencies are counting their snowplows and stockpiling deicing salt to make sure Las Vegas Valley roads stay clear and driveable.
The National Weather Service on Sunday issued a winter storm watch for tonight until early New Year’s Day, predicting snow for elevations above 2,000 feet. On Monday morning, the weather service predicted the chance of snow at 80 percent for Wednesday afternoon and evening; by Monday evening that estimate dropped to a 70 percent chance.
Still, the Nevada Department of Transportation has six snowplows in the Las Vegas area ready to go if snow does start falling, plus another 12 machines scattered throughout nearby counties that can be called in if needed.
The department also has 40 tons of "Ice Slicer,” a deicing material made of mostly salt and some other minerals, ready to spread on local streets.
That's a good thing, because the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is expecting about 340,000 visitors in town for New Year's Eve, spokeswoman Dawn Christensen said. The non-gaming economic impact from New Year's Eve celebrations is expected to be about $225 million.
NDOT is responsible for 753 miles of freeways and roads in Clark County, including Interstate 15, U.S. 95 and major thoroughfares like Sahara Avenue and Charleston Boulevard. Together, these NDOT-supervised roads see about half of all vehicle traffic in the county.
Other roads and sidewalks are overseen by local city public works department, which also have sand and deicing salts ready to deploy. The Clark County government has two snowplows of its own ready to use, with one stationed on Mount Charleston and another that can be sent wherever in the valley it's needed most.
Cities like Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas don't own snowplows, which are hardly a necessity given the tiny amount of snowfall that occurs in the lower elevations of the Las Vegas Valley, but NDOT is ready to share its equipment with these agencies if needed.
Although the last recorded snowfall in the lower valley occurred in 2008, NDOT employees are no strangers to dealing with the white stuff.
In addition to Clark County, the agency's Southern Nevada branch covers a territory that includes Esmeralda, Lincoln, Nye and Mineral counties, which see snow more frequently.
"Especially as you start moving to places higher in elevation, we see snow all the time," said NDOT spokesman Tony Illia.
The department tunes up its snowplows and restocks its supply of deicing salt each winter, Illia said. The 40 tons of deicing salt on hand is more than enough to deal with the forecasted snowfall later this week, he said.
Even with all the snowplows and road salt, Las Vegas's best defense against snowy roads is probably the weather.
"In general, any snow we get melts pretty quickly," said Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling. "We're lucky in that we can rely on Mother Nature to help us remove it."
If it does snow, locals can only expect between trace amounts and two inches, National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Goertow said.
Either way, the cold will continue.
The mercury dipped to 30 degrees at McCarran early Monday, making this the coldest night of the winter season. It was also the latest first freeze of any winter season in Las Vegas. The previous record was set Dec. 20, 2012.
The high for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is expected to be 38 degrees, with lows near 32 degrees. The weather should warm up by Saturday, with highs near 57 degrees.
Last week, Las Vegas experienced a record-breaking hot winter day of 70 degrees.
Sun reporters Ana Ley, Pashtana Usufzy and Katie Visconti and the Associated Press contributed to this report.