Remembering Rim Country's ‘Storm Of The Century'


Have you ever wondered when Payson's biggest snow occurred? Well, if you have, good news, we're going for a white-out with this column as we look back to 40 years ago this month.

Payson enjoyed a very white Christmas 40 years ago. Between Dec. 13 and Dec. 21, 1967, Payson received more than six feet of snow. The storm created havoc throughout Rim Country. Hay had to be airlifted to cattle, people had to be airlifted out, and chaos generally reigned throughout Rim Country and Northern Arizona in general.

The National Weather Service Phoenix Web site refers to this storm as the "Storm of the Century." Further translation? If you want to know what a 100-year snow looks like in this area, well, look no further than this storm. However, ‘storm' is actually a misnomer. As is often the case this time of year, it was two storms back-to-back. Throughout Arizona, these storms caused trouble. It ranged from snow where they don't usually get snow -- Gila Bend received 2.5 inches according to the National Weather Service -- to 86 inches of snow over nine days in Flagstaff. This was a doozy of a storm.

The Dec. 29, 1967 Payson Roundup gave the following description of the storm and some of its damage:

"The resiliency of pine trees, laid low by the onslaught of what is called the worst snow storm in the memory of old timers, was an inspiring sight Tuesday morning.

"Shaking themselves free of their white shrouds in the brisk morning wind and rain, they stood tall and proud again. Moments before the pine forest had looked like a snow plain, proving that all things work together for good in nature's plan.

"Disheartened by Monday's continuing snowfall, townspeople had gone to bed Monday night with a prevailing feeling of gloom. Roofs had caved in with the over burden of five days of snow. Just what would be the breaking point on others was foremost in minds.

"Downtown Payson looked like a disaster area. Only shoveling efforts to clear roofs had saved many a building.

"The new fire station was one of the casualties, as was Smitty's Garage, the Shell Butane Shed, the old Grady Harrison garage pump shed, and numerous other porches and sheds about town. Heavy trees had broken under the stress. The Pinon Café roof gave way.

"There was a grave concern over the new high school gym where the ceiling was cracking under three feet of snow and water. Boys shoveling snow from the roof were called off the job because of the danger involved."

Another aspect of this storm was the health problems that it caused people. Numerous heart problems were reported during and after the storm. Some of this was probably due to the extensive shoveling that people had to do. Power was out throughout much of Rim Country, so people had to keep a pathway shoveled out to their firewood pile. This storm also showed that while modern conveniences like electricity are great, it still helps to have a wood fireplace. Gov. Jack Williams made a comment at the time about this very topic that drew some ire.

"It seems to me that in the future those who move to the far perimeter of civilization should keep in mind the various contingencies... a Franklin stove, a fireplace, a good cupboard of supplies and a well-stocked medicine kit would seem essential."

Ultimately the storms passed and Payson gradually got back to normal. Yet for anyone who lived in Northern Arizona at the time, it was something that they will likely always remember.

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