It’s a white New Year for Rim Country with more than six inches of snowfall in Payson, 18 inches in Pine, 16 inches in Christopher Creek and a foot in Kohl’s Ranch reported on Thursday morning.
While the storm blanketed the area, it also caused dozens of slide offs, rollovers, collisions and power outages throughout the Mogollon Rim as emergency personnel scrambled to keep up with calls.
The flurry of calls started after 2 p.m. Wednesday, with multiple vehicles sliding off Highway 260 east of town on the Mogollon Rim. Calls continued with some 15 vehicles piling up on Highway 87 north of the Tonto Natural Bridge. No major injuries were reported, however, the Department of Public Safety busily rushed to send officers to each site. With a small staff and hundreds of miles to cover, most off-duty DPS officers were called in as snowfall became heavy.
By 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, several more vehicles and commercial trucks were reported blocking Highway 260 east of Payson. Motorists unprepared for the winter storm had few provisions, least of all chains, officials reported over the police scanner.
Although the Arizona Department of Transportation posted notices that chains or four-wheel drive were required for travel on Highway 260, by 5 p.m. vehicles were still sliding off the roadway, this time east of Christopher Creek.
Although cars and trucks were slip-sliding all over Rim Country, no major injuries or accidents were reported as of press time Thursday morning.
The Payson police chief and Payson and Pine fire chiefs reported they were busy, but with “little things.”
Pine Fire Chief David Staub said he was amazed to see so many people in Pine-Strawberry for the holiday.
Police Chief Don Engler said officers focused mainly on supporting DPS with road closures.
Officers also briefly assisted with two lost hikers off the end of Phoenix Street. A father and daughter reportedly were disoriented after snow covered the trail. The pair, who was not dressed for winter weather, eventually found the trail and met officers.
Winter enthusiasts are bundling up for the weekend. Agencies around the state are preparing for a busy holiday as travelers get out their skis, snowshoes, sleds and head to the hills.
Representatives of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, the Flagstaff Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety believe northern Arizona will receive an extremely high volume of winter recreation enthusiasts, especially in the Highway 180 corridor.
If using Highway 180, expect heavy congestion and significant delays.
In addition, prepare for cold temperatures. The National Weather Service is predicting a high of 33 degrees Friday with temperatures dropping to 13 degrees on Friday night. For Saturday, the high is 36 degrees with a low of 17 degrees. If needed, the Payson Fire Department has sand bags available for residents. Prepare for cold weather and winter driving conditions with a full tank of gas, chains, flashlight and other emergency items. Pack dry clothes, snacks, water and a trash bag. Call 511 or visit www.az511.com for the latest road conditions.