Rim Country Enjoys Early White Christmas

Well-behaved winter storm delivers six inches, but may be gone before the big morning


Gracey (left) and Sarah Henderson, reach the end of the ride as they slide down the hill at Green Valley Park, laughing all the way. The snow was wet, heavy and still coming down, Wednesday morning, Dec. 23, but the girls didn’t seem to mind

Gracey (left) and Sarah Henderson, reach the end of the ride as they slide down the hill at Green Valley Park, laughing all the way. The snow was wet, heavy and still coming down, Wednesday morning, Dec. 23, but the girls didn’t seem to mind |

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Up, up and away: The Canada Geese fly as this intruder invades their territory, early in the day, at Green Valley Park Dec. 23. A large flock of geese had gathered on the west end of the lake as they pecked here and there for food.

Rim Country residents got an early white Christmas as a festive, but well-behaved storm blanketed Payson with six inches of snow — and not much more than that in Show Low and Flagstaff.

As snowflakes the size of baby elves drifted down on roads, pines, junipers and prickly pear Tuesday afternoon, most folks hurried home through weather not really frightful, to a fire nonetheless delightful.

Some rash residents who’d promised flatlander relatives a White Christmas, danced on the porch calling to the enormous flakes “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Well — good luck with that.

Tell those flatlanders to get up here soon, since the recent flurries gave way to clear skies with predicted highs in the slush-making upper 40s through Monday.

On the other hand, forecasters say that if visitors can linger on into next week, they could have some nice, white after-Christmas sales — with a 10 to 20 percent chance of rain or snow throughout the early part of next week.

The winter storm ambled through Northern Arizona on Tuesday and headed on into New Mexico on Wednesday. Snowfall accumulations included 1 inch in Winslow, 3 inches in Sedona and Prescott, 5 inches in Star Valley, 6 inches in Payson, 6 to 8 inches in Flagstaff and Show Low, 8 to 16 inches at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and 10 to 14 inches in Munds Park.

The ski resort near Flagstaff got 14 to 23 inches and the Sunrise resort in the White Mountains got 16 inches, enough for both to open for the Christmas holiday — satisfying their dreams of a White Christmas.

The highway patrol closed both Highway 260 and Highway 87 heading north out of Payson, together with I-40, I-10 and I-17, but the closures proved fleeting as the storm slackened rather than accelerating with darkness.

Payson’s combination of rain and snow brought the rainfall totals to 12.5 inches for the year, just barely more than half the normal annual total of 22 inches.

The National Weather Service continues to predict a perhaps wetter than normal winter, due to the El Niño warming of surface waters in the Eastern Pacific. A strong El Niño warming usually puts more moisture into the air and steers winter storm tracks into the Southwest, but a moderate warming in recent years has had little local effect. So far, the warming trend sits on the borderline.

As soon as the storm hit Tuesday, motorists began slip sliding away on roadways in Pine, Payson and Star Valley.

The sheriff’s office, DPS and Payson police all responded to dozens of slide-offs. On Forest Road 199, police had to pull several vehicles out of ditches. Afterward, the road was restricted to vehicles with four-wheel drive.

No major accidents were reported in the Rim Country although there were several on Interstate 40 on the way to Flagstaff.

Far from the deadly snarl of snapped trees and traffic accidents spurred by the last big winter storm, Tuesday’s frosting mostly spawned snowmen, snow angels and some makeshift sleigh runs — although mostly of the two kids screaming variety rather the one-horse open sleigh sort.

The storm did make all the tree tops glisten —and made Wednesday merry and bright for Rim Country residents — especially for Midwestern transplants nostalgic for the snow, but happy not to be shoveling it.

As for those foolish enough to promise snow on Christmas morning — take pictures. They’ll understand — and you can always run them up to the Rim.

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