Snow buries northern Arizona, wreaking havoc on roadways
PHOENIX — A winter storm moved into northern Arizona on Thursday, dumping snow in the high country and bringing icy road conditions that hampered freeway driving across the region.
By 5 p.m., 31.6 inches of snow, a one-day record set in 1915, had fallen at the Flagstaff airport, which had been shut down earlier in the day.
In what has been described as an atypical storm for the region, snow was expected to keep coming down well into Friday.
Many highways were closed due to the weather.
Nearly 80 miles of Interstate 11 and U.S. 93 — the main route between Las Vegas and Phoenix — was closed, resulting in a 22-mile line of vehicles.
Officials suggested motorists use U.S. Highway 95 as an alternate between Boulder City and Interstate 40 near Needles, California.
Interstate 17 northbound was closed at State Route 179, about 12 miles north of Camp Verde. It reopened around noon on Friday.
Interstate 40 and U.S. 93 in the Kingman area were closed in both directions. Multiple vehicles were out of commission, the Arizona Department of Transportation reported.
I-40 was shut down at Stockton Hill Road; U.S. 93 was closed at Coyote Pass, about 2 miles northwest of I-40. I-40 eastbound was also closed at S.R. 95.
Northbound U.S. 93 at S.R. 71, northwest of Wickenburg, was closed for several hours but reopened by 5 p.m.
S.R. 87 southbound was also closed south of Payson around 10 a.m. because of multiple crashes. It reopened around 11:30 a.m. Friday, but authorities were still discouraging travel.
S.R. 260 westbound was closed near Heber at milepost 228, while the eastbound portion of the highway was closed at milepost 228, east of Interstate 17.
S.R. 77 was closed between Globe and Winkleman, and S.R. 177 was closed between Superior and Hayden.
School in many districts had been canceled Wednesday in preparation for the crush of snow. Northern Arizona University canceled classes on Thursday and Friday “due to the impacts of significant snowfall, high winds and road conditions.”
Gov. Doug Ducey said state agencies – including the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety — were working with local partners to make sure they have the resources they needed.
The city of Prescott declared an emergency, and state road crews were working to keep roads clear.
Transportation officials urged drivers to stay off the road and delay travel if possible. The state Department of Public Safety responded to 152 calls for trapped vehicles and slide-offs and 28 calls for non-injury and injury crashes before noon.
Pine Strawberry Fire District Chief Gary Morris said Gila County had begun getting ready for the snow impact Tuesday.
“We’re projecting 28 to 36 inches, some projections have 50 inches on top of the rim,” Morris told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Thursday.
“It’s a serious storm.”
Morris was anticipating power outages. He said the Pine Strawberry Cultural Hall was equipped with a generator so the site could be used as a shelter and warming center.
The domino effect of the storm put Sunset Point on I-17 in range of flurries.
“You don’t have to drive very far before your travels will be affected,” ADOT spokesman Garin Groff said.
The American Red Cross of Arizona set up shelters at the Kingman Community Center, Pine Community Center and Payson High School for anyone who needs shelter, blankets, cots or food.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.