- Associated Press - Monday, January 3, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gamblers on the Las Vegas Strip awoke to snow flurries Monday morning as part of a winter storm that turned the main highway between Southern and Central California into a snowy, icy parking lot.

Hundreds of motorists returning from the New Year’s holiday found themselves stuck after Interstate 5 was closed for a second day over the 4,160-foot-high Tejon Pass, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.

The California Highway Patrol closed a 30-mile stretch of I-5 shortly after 12:30 p.m. Sunday because of blowing snow. Blizzard conditions eased to light snow flurries early Monday but the road remained clogged with snow and patches of ice, and the Highway Patrol said the freeway probably will remain closed for hours as snow plows struggle to clear the mountain route.

“It took us two hours to go five miles,” said Charlie Crandall, who was trying to return north after visiting relatives in San Diego. He and a friend were lucky enough to get hotel rooms nearby, but hundreds more didn’t get lodging, and the cars kept coming.

“A lot of people slept in their cars last night,” said Mr. Crandall, 55.

Other drivers spent hours crawling over Interstate 15’s snowy Cajon Pass to get back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, where there was a trace of snow Monday at the official measuring station near McCarran International Airport.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Adair said there won’t be any accumulation near the hotels and casinos, but at least one neighborhood has a dusting of white, and up to 6 inches of snow fell overnight in Pahrump, about 60 miles west of Las Vegas.

The weather service predicted more snow at elevations as low as 1,500 feet. On Sunday, suburban Santa Clarita just north of Los Angeles got a rare snowfall.

In Montana and North Dakota, Amtrak expected to resume normal service Monday after a weekend weather stoppage. Snow, freezing temperatures and subzero wind chills had led Burlington Northern Santa Fe to halt passenger traffic on its tracks, while freight trains ran at slower speeds.

In Utah, the search for a missing hiker was halted late Sunday because of cold and dangerous conditions.

Officials planned to use a helicopter Monday to try to find the missing man who fell 300 feet from a cliff ledge at Snow Canyon State Park north of Santa Clara.

Washington County Sheriff-elect Cory Pulsipher told the Spectrum of St. George that rescuers were able to find two other men in the group of hikers, who were stranded on a hazardous climb.

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