The “worst” northern Arizona storm in years pounded the Flagstaff area and dropped 6 inches of snow on Payson, closing schools, canceling public meetings, trapping people in their homes, toppling trees and forcing Payson to turn a dozen garbage trucks into an all-night fleet of snowplows.
“This is the worst snowstorm that DPS has ever had to deal with in northern Arizona,” said Commander Dean Nyhart, DPS Northern Bureau Highway Division.
Multiple state agencies assisted drivers who had slid off, got stuck or rolled down highways and roads.
The Department of Public Safety and Arizona Department of Transportation closed multiple highways, including 87, 260 and 60, because crews could not keep up with the rapid accumulation of snow and ice. Officials closed all Rim Country schools Tuesday, plus trash pickup and Star Valley’s planning and zoning meeting.
With half a foot of snow on the ground and the National Weather Service predicting another storm moving in Thursday night, residents can expect more winter weather at least through the weekend.
The huge number of incidents across five counties has overwhelmed DPS. As of press time, many major roads remained closed. For updates on road closures, go to the Roundup’s Web site at payson.com.
As of Tuesday, both directions of Highway 260 were closed from Star Valley to Heber due to heavy snowfall, accidents and slide-offs. The Gila County Sheriff’s Office reported several semi-trucks jackknifed in an 8-mile stretch of Highway 260.
On Highway 87, southbound lanes were closed or restricted from Payson to a mile north of Rye, with a width restriction of 18 feet in places.
North of Payson, Highway 87 was closed to both lanes of traffic and was only opened Tuesday morning to drivers with chains or four-wheel drive. Pine resident and Roundup reporter Max Foster was snowed in at his home in Pine Creek Canyon.
Foster reported 4-foot snow drifts on top of several feet of snow.
“Traveling is almost impossible,” he said.
Several ponderosa pines had snapped in Foster’s back yard and the power had been on and off since Monday afternoon.
“APS has done a good job keeping it on,” he said.
With 10 inches of snow on the highway, northbound State Route 77 is closed south from Globe and several vehicles are stuck because of the unplowed roads.
Highway 60 is closed between Superior and Miami due to snow and fog, said DPS Officer M.J. McCall.
The Coconino County Public Works Department closed a portion of Lake Mary Road or Forest Road 3 as of 9 a.m. Monday. The road is closed at the north entrance of Mormon Lake to the south entrance. Traffic is detoured along the west side of Mormon Lake through Mormon Lake Village.
DPS is strongly urging motorists not to travel in the areas affected by the poor visibility, which are literally whiteout conditions with extremely slippery road surfaces due to the heavy snowfall.
DPS asks all motorists traveling to slow down, be attentive to changing weather and road and traffic conditions and to drive with extreme caution.
The storm spurred a host of accidents. Gila County Sheriff’s deputies helped a motorist stuck on Mesa Del Road and several motorists that had slid off Houston Mesa Road around 9 p.m. Monday. Deputies also helped a motorist stuck on Forest Road 29 around 11 p.m. Monday. A Snow-Cat operator rescued the driver on a road rendered impassable by several fallen trees.
The Town of Payson should plan to keep the snowplows ready, because the National Weather Service is predicting another, less heavy round of snowfall — possibly starting Thursday.
David Vonberheide, a technician at the NWS, said although Monday’s storm has mostly moved on into New Mexico, Rim Country could still get another 2-4 additional inches of snow Tuesday — with a 20-percent chance for rain and snow on Thursday and 30-percent chance on Friday.
For all current road and weather condition questions, visit the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) Web site at www.az511.com or dial 511.
Closures and cancellations
Pine School Superintendent Mike Clark, reached by phone Tuesday morning, was the only person in school. Everyone else was snowed out.
“I couldn’t even get the buses out of the parking area,” he said. Many of his employees live in Payson, and could not traverse Highway 87 to the snow-den of Pine.
Schools in Pine were closed Tuesday.
Payson has also canceled school as well as Wednesday’s in-service training. Weather permitting, Wednesday will be a full day of school.
Gila Community College closed classes all day Tuesday.
The Payson Senior Center shut down the thrift store for the day and will make no Meals on Wheels deliveries or transit bus runs. However, the Payson Masonic Lodge served lunch at the center starting at noon.
Star Valley’s planning and zoning commission meeting was canceled.
Waste Management also canceled Tuesday garbage pickups, according to spokeswoman Melissa Quillard. Pickups should resume Friday, weather permitting.
“We are asking customers to leave out their cans in case we can get there sooner,” Quillard said. Call Waste Management at (800) 796-9696 for more information.
Payson converted everyone in the roads department into snowplow drivers, dispatching a fleet of 12 trucks fitted with blades at about 10 p.m. The improvised fleet of snowplows, including dump trucks, road graders and a backhoe, first hit the priority one roads leading to key emergency centers, such as the fire stations and medical center. Next, they hit the major feeder streets connecting to the highway, like McLane, Airport, Vista and others. By then, they had to return to again clear the priority one streets, said Public Works Director LaRon Garrett.
“We’ve had worse, but this was a pretty good storm,” he said.
Several trees toppled and blocked roadways, which crews pushed aside to clear the traffic lane.
The drivers kept at it all night, quitting finally at about 9 this morning to get some sleep, without having been able to get to the priority three roads — the residential streets that don’t connect to a highway.