By MICHELLE RINDELS, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Three people were killed in blustery Northern California, football playoffs were called off because of rain in Arizona, and dozens of cars became stranded in snowy rural Nevada as winter weather barreled through the West.
The weather system was expected to head east and reach the opposite coast by the middle of next week, but not before dropping rain on the Southwest through Saturday morning, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson said.
A low pressure front dropped down from Alaska, followed closely by a high pressure system that stirred up the fierce winds linked to three deaths Thursday in California.
Police responded to reports of an unresponsive person in Oakland and found fallen sections of a tree and power lines. The person was pronounced dead at the scene; the cause of death was being investigated.
Another man died in Oakland less than an hour later after he crashed into a fallen tree while apparently trying to avoid debris in the road, the Contra Costa Times reported. Neither man has been identified.
In Yuba County, Sherri Pesich, 52, died when part of a 30-inch tree fell on a parked car in which she was sitting, Undersheriff Jerry Read said. Another woman in the car was taken to a hospital; her condition was unknown.
Meanwhile, a homeless man had to be rescued from a tree by helicopter and four others were plucked from an island after becoming trapped in the swollen Santa Ana River in California's San Bernardino County.
In northern Utah, transportation officials warned truck drivers of potential trailer-toppling gusts. No accidents had been reported, but big rigs were pulling off to the side of the freeways to wait out the winds Friday morning, Utah Highway Patrol officials told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The rain was turning to heavy snow in higher elevations, including rural eastern Nevada's Lincoln County, where 50 to 60 cars got stranded early Friday in "a long stretch of absolutely nothing," dispatcher Shannon Miller said. No injuries were reported, but U.S. 93 was closed south of Ely.
Snow in New Mexico and Arizona prompted some schools to delay opening Friday. Interstate 25 and roads throughout northern New Mexico were icy and packed with snow.
A flood watch was in effect until early Saturday in the Phoenix area, where several miles of the Loop 303 freeway in the western suburbs were closed due to flooding. The weather service said rain totals through Saturday morning could exceed 2 inches in the Phoenix area.
The wet conditions prompted the Arizona Interscholastic Association to push back high school football semifinal games set for Friday and Saturday. Officials rescheduled the games to Monday "due to the weather conditions, field conditions and safety of the players and fans attending the games."
In Tucson, Ariz., firefighters recovered the body of a man who was swept away by high water in the Santa Cruz River.
Showers in Las Vegas rained on the parade Thursday at the Latin Grammy Awards, where the green carpet was shut down and starlets in sparkling skin-tight gowns scampered indoors to avoid real fashion disasters.
Authorities, meanwhile, responded to hundreds of crashes as the storm dropped rain over desert dwellers.
Trooper Loy Hixson said the Nevada Highway Patrol responded to 141 collisions between 7 a.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday, including 37 with minor injuries. That's four to five times what the agency sees on a normal day.
Las Vegas police reported 112 accidents on surface streets during a rainy five-hour period Thursday.
"This happens every time we get bad weather," said Las Vegas police officer Laura Meltzer. "People need to slow down and leave more space."
At least one business in thirsty southern Nevada was rejoicing over the storm system. Officials at the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort north of Sin City measured 11 1/2 inches of snow at midday Friday, with a week to spare until opening day.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, Paul Davenport in Phoenix, and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque.
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