The storm that recently hit the state surely made an impact. Outside of Payson where I live, we had well over a couple feet of snow along with rain mixed in. We had power outages — power outages, which weigh a little heavier on everyone after the extended one in December. Commentators have called this a storm for the ages and I’ve read comparisons of it to the flood of 1970, so let’s take a look at where this might rank years from now.
There seems to be two keywords associated with this weather event: flooding and El Niño. The first reminds me of 1970 flood, which I don’t think is entirely appropriate. The flood of 1970 was during the last big weekend of summer. Arizona State University football was at Camp Tontozona and second homeowners and campers had flocked to the area. The storm came about from the remnants of Tropical Storm Norma and resulted in double-digit fatalities in Rim Country and 6.7 inches of rain was measured during a 24-hour period.
The storm was toward the end of what folks now call “monsoon season” and of what area old-timers often refer to as the “summer rains.” It spanned a lesser time period than the recent weather event, which evolved over the course of a week. Also, the time period was very different.
Phone lines were not in common use in the outer areas and there were no cell phones or Internet, thus notifying people of the approaching danger was difficult.
El Niño refers to a warming of Pacific Ocean waters leading to above average precipitation in California and Arizona during the winter months. The peak El Niño that I remember was in 1998 when I was playing trumpet on the weekends at the Arizona Renaissance Festival east of Mesa. It was March, and my trumpet teacher was Ray Nelson. By mid-afternoon it looked foolish to be out there. So Ray, from his car, called the festival and asked if the festival was going to close early. They said “no” and we trudged back through the sloppy mud. There were about 30 visitors in the entire place as another player and I led the King’s procession to the third joust. We played anything we felt like: fanfares in minor keys, the Superman theme, we just made the best of it.
These storms have certainly had a touch of El Niño with them, but also harken back to another weather event: the big snow of 1967.
Like last week, 1967 hosted a series of storms. It was just before Christmas and the entire area got drilled. Even Gisela had multiple feet of snow and Payson measured more than six feet of snow. Those were a cold set of storms and it tied the entire area up, and knocked out power for an extended period of time. Obviously, the past week was warmer. Look at it this way: it was a mix of 1967 and El Niño, combining to create situations somewhat like the flood of 1970; a unique mix that has rarely been seen in Rim Country. That probably gives a preliminary indication of how this storm will be remembered, though hopefully without the same fatalities that the previous events produced.
At times like this, one has to wonder what the old-timers did in these situations. My guess is that one of their top priorities was the care of their animals: the cattle they had on the range, their horses, and perhaps pigs they had around their home. Next, their thoughts would have turned to food and firewood, making sure they had enough or whether they needed to butcher some meat. Once those were taken care of, my guess is that they’d have sat back, had a smoke and a sip of whiskey while watching nature’s great show. They would be feeling good. As proof, consider this clip from the April 12, 1900 Arizona Silver Belt: “The farmers and cattlemen of this section are now happy. The rain and snow of the past week will insure good crops, good grass and plenty of water.”
Side Note: I’ll be creating an information file on this storm for future reference, and will provide a copy of what I receive to the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society and Rim Country Museum as well. If you have anything that you’d like to contribute, including photos, e-mail me at timothy @zanegrey.net or drop it by the Prudential Arizona Properties office.