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Wacky weather: Arizona opens 2016 with heavy rain, snow from El Nino

A pedestrian makes their way through historic downtown Flagstaff, Ariz., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. A series of El Nino-related storms dumped heavy snow on the region. (AP Photo/Josh Biggs)

PHOENIX — We’re just eight days into the new year, but El Nino has already been hard at work in Arizona.

There have been just two days — Jan. 1 and 2 — when Arizona was precipitation-free. The weather has been so dark and dreary that one climatologist said Phoenix was going to look like the Pacific Northwest for the next few months.

“This year, we’re going to become Seattle,” Randy Cerveny, a climatologist with Arizona State University, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes. “The storms that normally go up there will come down here.”

The rain started Monday in Phoenix, when we were all greeted by showers as we returned from the New Year holiday weekend. Northern Arizona began seeing some snowfall, but it was relatively light.

Forecasters warned it was only the beginning, and oh boy were they right.

By Wednesday, the entire northern part of the state was covered in a big blanket of white.

Flagstaff received nearly two feet of snow, leading to the cancellation of school and dangerous driving conditions. Several major roadways were closed and others, such as State Route 89A, were incredibly slow moving as drivers tried to avoid hitting one another.

Heavy rains hit the Phoenix area, leading to headlines we typically only see in summer: Storm knocks out power to Valley neighborhoods.

But that all paled in comparison to Thursday, when the high country received more than two feet of snow — falling as fast as one foot per hour — in major cities and about a half-inch of rain fell in the Valley.

The rain totals were the second-highest in Arizona history for one day total precipitation, right behind .67 inches back on Jan. 7, 1955. By early afternoon, a flood advisory was posted for areas northwest of Phoenix, including Cave Creek and New River.

While Arizona is typically a one-off when it comes to dealing with extreme weather, Cerveny said El Nino is expected to continue until March or April.

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