Rain Interrupts Drought

Payson receives 3 inches, Pine gets 5 inches as storm moves on


A break in the storm on Sunday produced a brilliant, double rainbow over much of Rim Country.

A break in the storm on Sunday produced a brilliant, double rainbow over much of Rim Country. Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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A break in the storm on Sunday produced a brilliant, double rainbow over much of Rim Country.

The three-day, Pacific storm that filled creeks and rivers to overflowing and dumped a foot of snow in the high country should move through the region today, leaving partly cloudy skies tonight and sunny skies on Wednesday.

However, on Monday night, many creeks and rivers remained at flood stage, with most crossings of the East Verde River and Tonto Creek closed.

The weather service reported on Monday about three inches of rainfall in Payson and at least five inches in Pine.

The storm got Payson off to a strong start for the year, since the single storm delivered more rain than Payson gets in an average January (2.3 inches).

However, the storm didn’t come as a surprise to long-term weather forecasters, who had predicted that the development of El Niño ocean surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific would produce a wet winter in Arizona.

On Monday, the snow level dropped down to Payson’s altitude, but for the most part the relatively warm Pacific storm that had moved ponderously into the region on Saturday just poured down rain below about 6,000 feet.

As a result, the storm in the beginning actually melted lingering snow — increasing the runoff.

The water rushed off the mountains en route to Roosevelt Lake, which had declined to about 40 percent of its capacity in the renewed grip of a drought. In the past 12 months the region has received about half its normal rainfall and in the past two years Roosevelt Lake and gone from overflowing to 40 percent of its capacity.

On Monday, Tonto Creek had surged from a flow of about 40 cubic feet per second before the storm to a stunning 5,780 cubic feet per second.

Other streams in the region also reflected the deluge.

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A steady three-day rain filled many Rim Country creeks to overflowing. Much of the water wound up in Tonto Creek. The flooded Punkin Center crossing.

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The East Verde closed Flowing Springs Road.

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Tonto Basin storm scene.

The Salt River at Roosevelt at this point normally carries 359 cubic feet per second, but on Monday had surged to 1,670 cfs.

The Verde River at Tangle normally would have 315 cfs, but on Monday rose to 15,100 cfs, according to the Salt River Project’s Daily Water Report.

Even Fossil Creek got into the action, with a flow of 2,400 cfs at its peak.

The National Weather Service reported big surges on virtually every stream in the region. For instance, water levels in the East Verde River near Childs rose from about nine feet to almost 17 feet by Sunday night. Fossil Creek rose from about three feet to about six feet. West Clear Creek near Camp Verde rose from about six inches to five feet. The Verde River near Camp Verde rose from about four feet before the storm to about 13.3 feet on Sunday.

Most rivers and streams should return to near normal flows by Wednesday.

The National Weather Service issued winter travel advisories throughout the region on Sunday and Monday, including avalanche warnings in the White Mountains and for the San Francisco Peaks overlooking Flagstaff.

The storm brought about 3 to 5 inches of snow above 6,000 feet and up to 8 inches above 6,500 feet. Above about 7,500 feet, many areas collected a foot of snow.

All that rain caused a host of problems, especially for emergency workers, who were called out to assist stranded motorists and hikers and remove boulders from both Highways 260 and 87.

Pine residents wound up with far more rain than snow, an oddity for a winter storm. Tom Hadley of Pine said although it snowed much of Monday, not a good deal of it was sticking.

The high in Pine Saturday, when three inches of rain fell, was 48 degrees. The average temperature for that day is 45 degrees.

The National Weather Service predicts a drying trend will start Wednesday, bringing higher temperatures through the week. By Friday, the forecast calls for highs of about 61 and lows of about 34.

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