Image: Traffic backed up on Interstate 5
Mike Meadows  /  AP
Traffic is backed up on northbound Interstate 5 near Castaic, Calif., on Sunday after heavy snow closed the major corridor into Southern California.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/3/2011 4:22:29 PM ET 2011-01-03T21:22:29

Traffic on two key interstates into Los Angeles was slowly getting back on track Monday after snow and ice on mountain passes caused backups as long as 30 miles.

Motorists had 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.

Interstate 15, which heads east to Las Vegas, was moving slowly Monday morning after earlier backups that drivers put at 20 to 30 miles.

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On Interstate 5, the California Highway Patrol had closed a 30-mile stretch shortly after 12:30 p.m. Sunday because of blowing snow.

On Monday morning, melting snow made the road icy, and the Highway Patrol only started taking groups of cars over the pass around noon Monday.

Some motorists were stranded overnight at lower elevations just before the pass.

"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 Crandall, 55.

Others faced 30 mile backups or took detours that were 12 hours or longer, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Matt Morrow, traveling with his wife and two children, said conditions on Interstate 5 became chaotic as stranded drivers sought shelter and gas in what he said felt like a blizzard.

"The entire freeway came to a screeching halt," the Times quoted Morrow as saying. "It was snowing like crazy right down there on the freeway."

Morrow said it took nearly an hour for traffic to move about 100 yards. Some drove onto the median to get around.

"There were mild cases of road rage," he said.

The storm will dump more snow at elevations as low as 1,500 feet before clearing out Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

Snow in Vegas
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.

"You don't come to Las Vegas and think, 'Hey, it's going to snow,'" said Josh Hansen, 22, of Los Angeles, who was posing with friends amid flurries next to the iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. "It's really weird."

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

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, officials found the body of a missing hiker Monday morning after the search was halted late Sunday because of cold and dangerous conditions.

The man fell 80 and 100 feet to his death from a cliff ledge in Snow Canyon State Park north of Santa Clara, KSTU-TV reported. He was among a group of three hikers who became stranded on a hazardous climb.

Authorities rescued the two other men Sunday, Washington County Sheriff-elect Cory Pulsipher told The Spectrum of St. George.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Snow hits Southern California

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