'Dangerous' winter storm creates hazardous travel in Arizona

By Mary Gilbert,

The highest elevations of the Southwest were the first to feel the effects of a storm that will spread a wide swath of snow, ice and rain from the nation's midsection to the East Coast into Wednesday.

This storm system was the first in a series of potent storms that will continue to target portions of Arizona and other areas of the Southwest through midweek.


By Monday morning, snow totals had begun to climb across the state. The National Weather Service's Flagstaff office, which referred to the storm as "dangerous," was covered by a thick blanket of snow with plenty more to come.

The highest elevations across Arizona are no strangers to snow during the winter. Flagstaff averages about 80 inches -- a little over 6.5 feet -- of snowfall each season. Since Dec. 1, Flagstaff has received 23.3 inches of snow. From Saturday to Sunday, 12.8 inches of snow blanketed the city, making it the highest two-day snowfall total so far this year.

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The first flakes began to fly Saturday night across the highest elevations of Arizona.

Residents of Coconino County and Gila County awoke on Sunday morning to discover between 6 inches and just over 1 foot of snow had fallen. The Flagstaff Pulliam Airport in Flagstaff had received 8.4 inches of snow, while reports in the city itself ranged from 7 to 9 inches.

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Snow quickly began to cause problems for residents who needed to travel in the state, especially across the northern regions.

As snow continued to fall on Sunday, the Arizona Department of Transportation advised residents to consider postponing travel if possible, or if travel was necessary, to slow down and use extreme caution. A video taken from an Arizona DOT snowplow demonstrated just how treacherous roadway conditions were over the weekend.

It wasn't long before accidents, delays and road closures began to add up across the state on Sunday. At one point on Sunday evening, heavy congestion could be seen across a nearly 50-mile stretch of Interstate 17 to the south of Flagstaff.

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Conditions deteriorated even further late Sunday as the second, and most potent, in a series of disruptive storms for began its journey through Arizona.


AccuWeather forecasters say the worst of the storm will be ongoing across Arizona into Monday night.

"Heavy snowfall rates and gusty winds will contribute to whiteout conditions that can make travel next to impossible across the high country into Monday night," AccuWeather meteorologist Niki LoBiondo said.

As of early Monday, State Route 89A, which connects Flagstaff and Sedona, remained impassible and closed in both directions with no timeline to reopen the roadway, according to Arizona DOT.

Snowfall across the area into Tuesday will continue to help pad the region's snowpack.

AccuWeather forecasters say that a general 6 to 12 inches can fall across much of the high country with as much as 48 inches falling along the Mogollon Rim through Tuesday.

Despite the travel hazards, bulking up the snowpack across the high country will only help to ease drought conditions across the area when the snow ultimately melts. Most of the state is still in the midst of extreme to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.


While portions of Arizona may be used to winter snow, flakes flying through the air is a strange phenomenon for other parts of the Southwest, like Las Vegas. The last time accumulating snowfall was recorded in Las Vegas was Feb. 20-21, 2019. Overnight on Monday, a mix of rain and snow is forecast to develop in the city and slushy snow accumulations are possible.

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