Weather Records Evaporate

Record cold and heat mark a year of extremes for Arizona

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Last year was a year of weather extremes in Arizona — but also a welcome respite from drought with near normal monsoonal rainfall totals.

The Payson area set several records, ranging from a New Year’s cold front to an August heat wave, according to the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

Here is a run down of some of the year’s weather highlights for the Rim Country.

Early in the year, an Arctic air mass moved into northern Arizona, dropping snow and temperatures from the Grand Canyon to the Rim Country.

The low on New Year’s Eve 2011 in Payson was 1 degree, a new record, according to the Weather Service.

Other areas with record lows included a minus 28 degrees in Fort Valley near Flagstaff, minus 25 in Springerville and minus 3 in Cottonwood.

The winter brought some of the coldest temperatures seen since the 1990s, causing frozen pipes at homes and business including at Northern Arizona University.

In late February 2011, a Pacific storm swept across Arizona dropping heavy rain and snow. Payson got a good dusting with the heaviest accumulations over the western end of the Mogollon Rim and Kaibab Plateau. Pine saw 4.5 inches of snow from the storm with Flagstaff’s Arizona Snowbowl getting more than 40 inches.

After a cold winter, summer also delivered extreme conditions.

May and June were both windy and fire officials braced for an active fire season in the summer.

Their fears were realized May 29 when the largest wildfire in Arizona history started in the White Mountains.

The Wallow Fire burned through 538,000 acres, destroyed 32 homes and numerous outbuildings and cost millions to fight.

Officials said windy weather and extremely dry drought conditions contributed to the fire’s rapid spread.

Things did not cool down much in August with temperatures across northern Arizona unseasonably high for much of the month.

“While no extremely hot temperatures were recorded on any particular day, the consistency of the above-normal temperatures throughout the month was unusual,” the Weather Service said. “As a result, many sites set new records for the warmest August ever and many others came in with the second warmest August.

In Payson, 2011’s August was the third hottest on record.

While things heated up, the area still managed to have a nearly-normal monsoon season.

From June 15 through Sept. 30 — monsoon season — Payson got just over 7 inches of rain, .44 inches less than normal.

Snowfall totals also came in close to normal. For the year, Payson saw 18.5 inches of snow, just 1.6 percent below average.

On Monday, the new year got off to a good start with a storm that moved in overnight dumping rain in Payson and a light layer of snow in the high country. Fire officials only hope the storms continue through the winter to ease the fire season.

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