Winter Storm Bearing Down On Rim Country

Storm may bring Payson a white New Year’s — big drop in temperature

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With one last winter storm on the way for 2010, Payson looks poised to finish the year with just a splash above normal rainfall.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for Tuesday’s highs around 50 to yield to a winter storm on Wednesday and Thursday — with snow down to 5,000 feet.

The forecast says the Wednesday high will drop to 37, with a 70 percent chance of rain and snow. Daytime accumulations call for 1 to 3 inches of snow with wind gusts to 28 mph. Overnight Wednesday into Thursday, 4 to 8 inches of new snow is possible. Chance of evening snow is 90 percent according to the National Weather Service.

The front will move through on Thursday, dropping the high to 33 with the chance of rain and snow at 70 percent. The forecast predicts new snow accumulation of 1 to 3 additional inches.

On Friday there is a slight chance of rain and snow, but the frigid temperatures should remain — with a high of 33 on Friday and 36 on both Saturday and Sunday — under mostly sunny skies.

Even without that storm, Payson’s rainfall total of 23.34 inches puts it an inch or two above the long-term annual average.

December’s rainfall proved as fitful as every other month of the year. Prior to this most recent storm, December accumulated 1.9 inches compared to the long-term average for the month of about 2.3 inches.

The approaching storm should usher in the coldest days of the year, in what has seemed a mild winter — especially in contrast to the record-breaking blizzards in the East and South.

This year’s above-normal 23 inches comes at the tail end of a decade of drought, which had for a time blighted millions of acres of Rim Country forests and driven well levels to record lows.

However, the return of more normal conditions on the Salt and Verde River watersheds have eased the worst effects of the drought.

The Salt River Project’s reservoirs on the two watersheds remain at 90 percent capacity, which includes the greatly augmented storage capacity of Roosevelt Lake — the largest reservoir in the SRP system.

Sporadic storms in December have resulted in wildly variable flows into those reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers.

For instance, on Monday, Tonto Creek at its junction with Roosevelt Lake had dwindled to just 21 percent of normal and the Salt River’s flow of 212 cubic feet per second stood at about 80 percent of normal.

On the other hand, the Verde River was rushing along at 1,386 cubic feet per second — that’s almost five times the normal flow for this stage in December.

That might reflect the relatively warm temperatures, which have resulted in increased runoff rather than snow pack in the high country.

If the forecast of a winter storm proves accurate, the high country may get a major increase in its snow pack — all the way down to Payson’s elevation.

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