A major winter storm hammered northern Arizona with record-setting snowfall that forced roads to close over a wide area of the state Thursday, even dusting some northern parts of the Phoenix metro area with a rare snowfall.
The storm’s impact was continuing into late Thursday and was expected to extend well into Friday throughout the state, including the Phoenix area, according to the National Weather Service.
Already by Thursday evening, Flagstaff had broken a 104-year-old record for snowfall in one day, and numerous other areas had recorded close to two feet of snow.
In the Phoenix area, rain was the story, falling across the metro region much of the day and into the night.
By 8:30 p.m., some of the heaviest hit-areas included Carefree, which had received more than 1.5 inches of rain — this after having seen some morning snow — and Queen Creek with more than 1.4 inches.
Glendale, Tempe and Scottsdale had each received about three-quarters of an inch of rain by that time, while downtown Phoenix saw 0.4 inches, but Sky Harbor International Airport had recorded almost half an inch.
Areas in south Phoenix and the West Valley, including Goodyear and Litchfield Park, had gotten about half an inch of rain.
The Arizona Department of Transportation said that the storm closed long stretches of highways throughout Arizona where heavy snow had fallen and was continuing to fall Thursday night.
The closures included the northbound Interstate 17 at State Route 179; State Route 260 also was closed in both directions between Star Valley and Heber-Overgaard, and the highway’s eastbound lanes were closed near Interstate 17 by Camp Verde.
Both directions of State Route 89 between Sedona and Flagstaff were closed, as well as the US 60 between Superior and Globe, ADOT said.
No estimate for reopening the roads was given. Officials were providing updates via Twitter, at az511.gov or by dialing 511.
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By mid-afternoon Thursday, more than 23 inches of snow had been reported at Flagstaff Airport, forcing its closure. By then, Flagstaff had smashed the record snowfall for the date, 10 inches set back in 1944.
But with snow continuing to fall, the all-time one-day snow record of 31 inches, recorded in 1915, was broken by 5 p.m., when the National Weather Service Flagstaff announced that the Flagstaff Airport had gotten 31.6 inches of snow.
About 20 inches had been recorded in most areas of the city itself by mid-afternoon, while Williams, about 30 miles to the west, had recorded 2 feet. Both Payson and Prescott had recorded more than a foot, with more on the way. Sedona had tallied 8 inches by mid-afternoon.
Schools were closed across the region and scheduled to stay that way Friday, as the Arizona Department of Public Safety and local authorities were asking people to avoid travel if possible.
At 3 p.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service reported that snow was falling at a rate of 3 inches an hour, predicting another foot could fall across much of the high country from Flagstaff through Mogollon Rim communities by early evening Thursday. The forecast called for snow to continue Friday.
A winter storm moving through Arizona on Feb. 21, 2019, brought snow to northern portions of the Phoenix area.
For most Phoenix area residents, rain and cold temperatures were the story of the day, as just about every area recorded some measurable rain, with the heaviest amounts anywhere from a 0.50 to 0.75 of an inch in areas of the northeast and southeast Valley. Other areas were generally less than half an inch. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport had recorded a quarter inch by mid-afternoon.
Snow fell in Cave Creek, Carefree and northern Scottsdale, among other areas on the northern fringes, early Thursday, with an occasional mix-in of hail in some areas.
“Surprisingly if you live here through enough winters, it really isn’t too uncommon see a dusting of snow across that portion of the Valley,” said Andrew Deemer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix.
“What I think overall, more unusual might be how much snow everyone is getting throughout a wide portion of the state,” he said.
Deemer said Phoenix may get up to 2 inches of rain before the storm moves out, while the Flagstaff area could get more than 2 feet of snow.
“Usually you don’t see such a wide swath of the state get that much snow all through one storm,” Deemer said.
DPS troopers in the agency’s four northern Arizona districts handled 152 calls for stuck vehicles and slide-offs and 28 non-injury and injury crashes between 3 a.m. and noon on Thursday, the agency said.
“It’s the type of snowstorm that really covers the vehicles and I’d say a lot of the cars that I’m seeing have more than a foot of snow on top of them,” said Doug Nintzel an ADOT spokesman. “The roads are, quite frankly, treacherous across much of the region.”
Nintzel, who normally works in the Phoenix area, said he traveled up north to keep an eye on the storm. ADOT had deployed snowplows throughout the high country to try to keep pace with the snow.
“In hearing the weather forecast as we were heading into the storm, this was seen as one of the more powerful storms that was going to enter Arizona in the past 10 or 15 years,” Nintzel said.
There have been a number of road closures all over Arizona due to the inclement weather.
“We have had sections of Interstate 40 in northwestern Arizona that have been closed because of snow and ice on the roadways and so that points to another example that this is a very powerful storm,” Nintzel said.
According to Nintzel, ADOT has a fleet of 200 snow plows, 60 of which are currently deployed in the Flagstaff area.
“The snow plow operators are doing the best they can, but we still havesnowpackk and icy conditions throughout the area,” Nintzel said. “We’re at a point where we’re recommending that drivers try their best not to be out on the highways, especially in the high countries because of the ice and snow. We’re, quite frankly, recommending that travelers delay their travel.”
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office released a warning Thursday evening to back-country mountain travelers to be alert for potential avalanche hazards on the San Francisco Peaks.
“Avalanche mitigation and patrolling is conducted within the Arizona Snowbowl, but there is no avalanche control or routine patrolling in the forest outside of the Snowbowl,” the release said. “Those traveling into the backcountry need to be prepared for and understand the conditions prior to venturing out.”
Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency about 9:15 a.m. Thursday. The proclamation allows for Prescott city officials to seek reimbursement if and when an emergency or disaster declaration is made at the state or federal level, according to the city’s website.
Prescott could receive between 17 and 23 inches of snow from the storm when the snow finally stops Friday, city officials posted online.
“Residents are urged to stay off the streets and avoid driving during this storm to allow emergency and public service vehicles to travel as freely as possible,” according to Prescott’s website.
The snowfall prompted the American Red Cross to open shelters in Payson, Pine and Kingman to provide shelter, snacks and water to the communities impacted by the weather.
A shelter was set up at the Payson High School gymnasium at 301 South McClane on Thursday afternoon. The organization also set up a shelter at the Kingman Community Center at 3345 Harrison Street in Kingman. A shelter at the Pine Community Center was relocated to Pine Fire Station #41 at 6198 W. Hardscrabble Mesa Rd.
Community members are urged to check the Red Cross website and social media accounts for shelter locations and updates.
Despite the cold nature of the storm, it’s not likely the heart of Phoenix and surrounding communities will see any snow, Deemer said.
“Right now, it’s still pretty warm in the Valley and the snow levels right over us are still a bit high, so I’ll never say never. I’ve seen snowflakes fall in town on more than one occasion but for today it looks a bit too warm for most folks in the Valley see any kind of snow,” Deemer said Thursday afternoon.
Temperatures dropped into the 40s through much of the Phoenix area Thursday afternoon, but low overnight temperatures were expected to stay above 40 in most areas, as the rain and cloud cover stayed in place.
“This might be the last cold punch,” Deemer said. “It’s trending that way, but sometimes March can deliver a surprise, but this might be it.”
Republic’s Chris Coppola contributed to this report.
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