Rim Country was recently hit by some winter weather, but it’s far from the most severe winter weather that this area has ever had. Not even close. For that we have to go back to 1967 and a gigantic snow that hit a little before Christmas.
“White Yule Dream Nightmare” was one of the headlines that the Dec. 19, 1967 Arizona Republic carried. The state had been hit by multiple winter storms at that point, starting with one on Dec. 13. By Dec. 19 isolated areas were really struggling. The Arizona Republic had this to say about the Payson area that day.
“PAYSON: Gila County sheriff’s officers fear for residents in resort area 20 miles north. May take weeks to open back roads where many elderly retirees are stranded. Groceries are being hauled into isolated sections. The area is low on butane fuel, but electricity, out in spots for up to three days, restored. Two of Payson’s three fire engines are pinned under a collapsed fire station roof and officials are concerned over the new high school gymnasium, where the ceiling has cracked under 3 feet of snow.”
According to snow totals that ran in the Payson Roundup around that time, Payson had seven inches of snow on Dec. 13 and 20 inches the next day. Another foot of snow on Dec. 15 made things even worse and it wasn’t done yet, as over the following days another three feet of snow fell on Payson. The entire state was slammed.
The National Weather Service describes the weather event has having been two storms, though they note that many people perceived it as one because the second storm followed so closely on the heels of the first. A total of 86 inches of snow fell at Flagstaff. Winslow, where they get on average a little under a foot of snow per year, got three times as much with 39.6 inches from these two storms. The Heber Black Mesa Ranger Station set a state record with 38 inches of snow in a 24-hour period. This was a massive weather event that impacted the entire state.
Around the state, crews were mobilized to assist and much help was needed. In Payson, the Beeline Café became a gathering and feeding spot for tired crews working to help locals dig out. Heart problems flared up for many people. After all, roofs were a concern and some did collapse due to the heavy snow load. The National Guard was called upon to airlift supplies including many bales of hay to cattle in outlying areas.
Once the storms subsided, there were other worries around the state. While flooding wasn’t a concern in the Payson area, it was for the Phoenix area as snow melted and ran downhill via waterways such as Tonto Creek and the Verde River. The Salt River running through the heart of Phoenix knocked out some bridges following the storms and created more problems. Meanwhile, Payson continued to dig out and gradually returned to normal.
For more information about extreme weather events in Arizona, check out www.wrh.noaa.gov/psr/ general/history/index.php?wfo=psr&page=top.