Some places have three feet of snow in an entire winter, but Flagstaff, Ariz., has had that much snow in 24 hours on Thursday.
“This was a very cold and highly unusual event for northern Arizona,” said Brian Klimowski, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff. “We had record snowfall in several locations — certainly a historical event.”
Flagstaff officially picked up 35.9 inches, its highest single-day snow total in the 126 years that records have been kept. It shatters the previous one-day total of 31 inches, which had stood since 1915.
The event was well-predicted. Klimowski said the precipitation shield extended farther west than forecasters had originally expected.
“The storm pretty much came as forecast, but was a little bit heavier in the Flagstaff area,” he said.
The Weather Service office even kept two staff members at a nearby hotel, expecting the 10-mile commute from downtown to be challenging. “We had to plan ahead to make sure we’d have full staff here,” Klimowski said.
A number of major roads have been shut down, including a nearly 50-mile stretch of Interstate 17. The Arizona Department of Transportation has no estimate for when the highway, which leads to Flagstaff from the south, will be reopened.
The process of clearing roads at the county level has proved equally challenging.
“Our crews have been working 24/7 throughout this storm,” said Matthew Rudig, Coconino County’s public information officer. “We have 30 or 40 graders and plows out there at all times. A lot of our crews are working 12-hour shifts. But many roads are still impassible or dangerous.”
The county also opened an emergency operations center to help manage and provide logistical support to first responders.
“Snow actually did come into our suburbs of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills,” wrote Amber Sullins, chief meteorologist at ABC-15 in Phoenix. “That’s after these locations picked up over an inch of rain. That’s record-breaking rain for us!”
Sullins expects the unusual cold will mark a record-low high temperature for Feb. 22.
“We’ll only make it into the low-50s. The previous record cold high is 54 from 1897 — 122 years ago!” she wrote. “It’s not often we break record cold temperatures anymore in this warming climate.”
As the storm leaves Arizona, it will bring a dose of mountain snow to New Mexico before a warm-up arrives early next week.
But as the cleanup continues in the wake of Thursday’s event, Sullins summed it up: “It’s been a wet and wild couple of days!”