Record Drought Could Be Ending

Rim Country gets nearly 10 percent of annual rainfall in one week

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This week's storm dumped 10 percent of an average annual rainfall, closed streets and sparked accidents, but it could also help end a record-length Rim Country drought.

So far this year, meaning in the last week, more than two inches of precipitation has fallen in Rim Country, according the National Weather Service.

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An unidentified man braves the elements and ignores the sign as he travels south on McLane Road in Payson during yesterday's continuous and steady rain. Some trucks also ignored the sign and splashed through the street in the late morning hours.

Payson averages almost 2.5 inches for all of January and more than 22 inches of liquid precipitation annually.

Using those figures, Payson got a month of rain in just one week.

"Gila County, including Payson and the majority of Eastern Arizona, is now categorized as being in abnormally dry conditions," said George Howard with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

"Abnormally dry conditions is kind of sandwiched between drought and pretty much normal conditions," Howard added.

He said that if favorable rains like the ones since November continue, Gila County could be completely out of its decade-long drought this year.

The National Weather Service uses a 30-year average to calculate annual rainfall.

The model used to determine current averages is based on the 1971 to 2000 period, said Howard.

While the added rain since November has eased the statewide drought, residents in and around Rim Country have also had to deal with the problems that often accompany heavy rain.

Nearly and inch of rain on Sunday closed several major crossings along the East Verde River and Tonto Creek.

Jeannine Cheek, with the Tonto Basin Fire District, said a half-inch of rain between midnight and 3 a.m. Monday closed all of the crossings to the east side of Tonto Creek near Jake's Corner and Gun Creek along Highway 188 to Globe.

‘We saw a blip on the SRP radar site Sunday about noon indicating we had a lot of rain coming our way," Cheek said. "It usually takes about 12 hours to reach us from where it was on radar, so we had some time to prepare."

Tonto Basin wasn't the only community in the area affected by Sunday and Monday's rains.

"Both the second and third crossings along the East Verde River on Houston-Mesa Road and the Flowing Springs crossing in East Verde Estates north of Payson off Highway 87 are closed at this time," a representative with the Gila County Sheriff's Department said Monday morning.

Cheek said if the rain in Payson and higher elevations turns to snow later in the day and week, it could provide some relief to residents on the east banks of Tonto Creek.

But if the rain continues without turning to snow, more flooding could result.

Rains in Payson and Star Valley haven't been quite as heavy as in other parts of Rim Country.

"So far there are no closings due to the rains within Star Valley or Payson, but if we get more there might be," said Sgt. Donald Garvin with Payson Police.

Garvin warned that flooding could occur in Payson and Star Valley even if it's not raining in the immediate area.

"A lot of our flooding comes from rains that are happening outside of town," Garvin said. "When rivers and streams up higher get a lot of rain, it will run off down into our area causing flooding and road closures."

He said motorists should be aware that crossing barricades could result in both criminal charges and civil fines.

Some of the barricades police put up simply warn motorists to be cautious when crossing a flooded road, but barricades designating roads as closed are a different matter.

‘If someone crosses a road marked as closed, they could face criminal charges and civil fines and might have to repay costs of emergency response units if they have to be rescued," Garvin said.

A conviction on Arizona's Stupid Driver laws could result in fine of up to a $2,000, plus reimbursement of emergency response units if ordered by a judge.

While Payson police didn't close any roads due to heavy rains, DPS imposed some restrictions in higher elevations.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, either four-wheel drive or chains were required above Christopher Creek along Highway 260 out of Star Valley and north of Strawberry on Highway 87, said Payson DPS Sgt. John Whetten.

Whetten said barricades are up along those highways and motorists without chains or four-wheel drive would be turned back.

He said there have been no major accidents due to the weather, but one motorist in Deer Creek did roll over Monday morning about 6 a.m.

"I wasn't the officer on the scene, but from what I understand, the driver's vehicle simply hydroplaned and ended up rolling over," said Whetten.

Details were not available from DPS, but Whetten said no one was injured and the vehicle was towed from the scene without restricting traffic.

Authorities say weather conditions should improve this week.

"Clearing conditions are expected to move west to east across the northland...starting first in Yavapai County in the mid afternoon," according to the National Weather Service Web site.

Partly cloudy to mostly sunny conditions are expected through Thursday, with sunny conditions on Friday.

Highs are expected to be in the mid-fifties and lows in the mid-twenties.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, 10 to 12 inches of snow was reported in Forest Lakes, and 8 inches in Pinetop.

A winter storm warning was in effect until 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, evening.

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