Remembering The ‘Big Snow’

Storm of 1967 is the one by which all others are measured

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Two days. 48 hours. — That’s how long some folks were without power during the big winter storm a couple weeks ago (the author included). Yet that storm pales in comparison to Payson biggest winter storm ever: “the Big Snow of ’67.”

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.” 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 overburden 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.”

Obviously, there was a big difference in the root causes of problems between 1967 and 2009. The 2009 storm had high winds that were unusual for this region in this time of year. This was a major cause of the problems, whereas 1967 was just an unbelievable amount of snow. Another big difference? The reaction. Check out Ralph Fisher’s letter to the editor from the Payson Roundup.

“In the press on Dec. 27, 1967, our governor released a plea that ‘Governor Urges: Be Prepared For Storms’ in which he set the major blame on the homeowners that have built-in all-electric homes in subdivisions and cabins in remote areas, the far perimeter of civilization as he called it, a bafflement problem he can’t cope with.

“‘The stove and fireplace, a Franklin stove, along with a good supply in the cupboard would seem essential.’ We say to Governor Williams that most all-electric homes are more modern and safe and suitable for older persons and much easier for a heart condition person to care for. We also wish to advise him that most of these all-electric homes do have auxiliary heat in form of either a butane, oil heater or fireplace.

“But did the Governor know that when the electric power fails, the water supply fails too because the Water Company can’t supply water through a system that depends on pumps operated by electric power; even our local Payson Clinic-Hospital was without lights and water and heat until an auxiliary system was placed into operation.

“It was not that we in all-electric homes were the only ones calling his office for help. Countless others called too. Not only the ones stranded or complaining; but all of the citizens in Payson are and were angry.

“It took our county officials, elected or appointed that control this isolated northern Gila County community 9 to 10 days to clear county roads, some only 1/8 of a mile off cleared State Route 87 to free families stranded for 9 days that found the well-stocked cupboards, medicine supply, firewood and water running low.

“All we called your office for Gov. Williams, many times, was to shake our county officials into action and get our roads open so that we could get out to the state cleared highways into town to help ourselves and get off your back.

“I am sure Arizona Public Service that has promoted all-electric homes in our ‘not-so-remote’ subdivisions is not in favor of your open discredit of these modern homes.

“Also, I am sure your last paragraph of your plea, and I quote, ‘Experience also taught officials concerned with the emergency that only the most severe emergencies should be considered when a storm is raging,’ Williams stated.

“How, dear Governor, is an ambulance, a doctor, a friend or anyone going to reach that resident with an emergency when for 9 days the county can’t open a road covered with 6-feet of snow and our official weather report shows we had a total of 77 inches. I myself measured 66 inches on the road in front of my subdivision home (all-electric) that required 9 days for the county to blade after calls to the governor on Monday, Dec. 18th, the 29th, and the 22nd.

“Gov. Williams, Payson has one bad infection; it is run and controlled by one family. The supervisor of county roads, the two deputy sheriffs, the town constable, the justice of the peace, and the building inspector are all related. That my dear Governor, is our trouble plus two county officials in Globe, which we plan to start getting a recall petition circulated once the snow melts enough and our roads are clean that we, ourselves, can circulate.”

Fisher’s statements are actually kind of fascinating. Keep in mind that Fisher was a respectable person, having been editor of the Payson Roundup and a writer for a number of other publications. It also shows just how far things have come in 40 years when it comes to getting roads cleared in a timely fashion. The next time we have a “big” storm just remember, it still probably doesn’t hold a candle to the storms of 1967.

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