Bad Weather Brought 300 Calls An Hour To Dispatchers


The Gila County Sheriff's Office in Payson fielded nearly 300 calls an hour during the March 11 and 12 storm that dropped more than 30 inches of snow on the town.

"It was mostly people calling for road conditions," said Lisa Hicks, dispatch supervisor for the GCSO in Payson. "For some reason, people want to hear it from a real person. It made it hard for us to take care of the real calls."


March came in like a white lion a week-and-a-half ago, dropping between 18 to 36 inches of snow in this part of the Rim Country. The last bit of winter weather is being forecast for today (Tuesday), but little accumulation, if any, is expected.

Among those "real" calls were people camping around the Young area, who said they were caught off guard by the weather.

"I don't understand that," Hicks said. "How can they say they were caught by surprise when the storm had been forecast for about a week-and-a-half in advance?"

Because the storm was so severe -- dropping 36.04 inches in Payson, according to National Weather Observer Anna Mae Deming, 30 inches in Star Valley and 18 to 20 inches in the Pine and Strawberry areas -- that the GCSO personnel had difficulty getting to some of the calls.

"The people had to dig themselves out in some cases," Hicks said.

Sgt. John Whetten of the Payson office of the Department of Public Safety said his staff responded to 17 calls during the March 11 and 12 storm. The most severe was March 13, he said. A trucker, returning to Phoenix, jumped out of his 18-wheeler after it hit ice on Highway 260 and started to jackknife. The vehicle rolled over the driver, severing his leg below the knee.

Otherwise, "most of the calls were about vehicles sliding into snow banks," Whetten said. There were not many injuries, but some of the vehicles were damaged.

The Payson Police Department responded to 64 actual weather-related calls during the course of the storm, said Commander Don Engler. However, the dispatchers were kept busy responding to at least 100 calls an hour for weather and road conditions, he said.

The weather service had predicted only 6 to 8 inches of snow for the Payson area for the March 11 and 12 storm, but more than 30 inches accumulated. For last weekend, the forecast predicted almost 15 inches for the March 18 and 19 storm.

Jim White at the National Weather Service in Flagstaff said they recorded only a trace of snow for the Payson area from last weekend's storm.

"Another storm is forecast for today (Tuesday), with a 50 percent chance of rain and snow," White said in an early-morning interview with the Roundup. Snow could fall on elevations above 6,000 feet during the day, dropping to 5,000 feet Tuesday night.

Only a couple of inches in accumulation are predicted, White said. "At least that's what we're forecasting now."

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