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Snow buries northern Arizona; flurries delight in desert

January 26, 2021 GMT
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A semi-truck travels on Interstate 40 in Bellemont, Ariz. Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. A series of winter storms have dropped more precipitation in Flagstaff than the city had during last summer's monsoon season. The recent snow measured as water topped the amount of rain that fell from mid-June through September, the driest monsoon season on record. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)
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A semi-truck travels on Interstate 40 in Bellemont, Ariz. Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. A series of winter storms have dropped more precipitation in Flagstaff than the city had during last summer's monsoon season. The recent snow measured as water topped the amount of rain that fell from mid-June through September, the driest monsoon season on record. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A major winter storm buried northern Arizona in snow on Monday while sending flurries to the outskirts of Las Vegas and Phoenix, delighting desert dwellers.

A series of storms dropped more precipitation on Flagstaff than the city had during last summer’s monsoon season, and more snow is expected overnight into Tuesday, weather forecasters said.

The mountainous northern Arizona city recorded its driest monsoon seasons on record in 2020 and 2019.

Before midnight Sunday, the snowfall measured as water easily topped the 1.78 inches (4.52 centimeters) that fell as rain from mid-June to September. Other Arizona cities were on track to do the same, said Tim Steffen, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

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“It’s somewhat of a gee-whiz thing, but it also goes to show how dry last monsoon season was,” he said.

In Phoenix, oval ice crystals known as graupel piled up on the ground creating the illusion of snow. But to residents accustomed to scorching temperatures, the distinction didn’t matter much.

“It looks like snow when they squint their eyes a little bit,” said weather service meteorologist James Sawtelle. “It looks like it might be snow sitting out in the yard from inside the kitchen.”

A strong afternoon thunderstorm with gusty winds toppled trees and power poles, Sawtelle said.

Higher elevation communities on the outskirts of both Phoenix and Las Vegas reported snow.

The weather will ping-pong the rest of the week with a blast of well-below freezing temperatures Wednesday morning in places like Flagstaff, Window Rock and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and hardly above freezing in desert locales.

Temperatures then will moderate before a weaker storm moves in ahead of the weekend, Steffen said.

Schools across northern Arizona closed or had shortened schedules Monday as heavy snow fell across the region. The biggest of the storms that have slammed the state since last week was expected to last from Monday into Tuesday.

Flagstaff, Payson and Pinetop-Lakeside could get close to 3 feet (.9 meters) of snow or more before the storm moves out. Lower-lying areas also got snow.

Authorities urged people to stay home to avoid snow-packed and slick roads. Chains were required on vehicles in some areas. The storm forced some portions of major interstates to close, at least temporarily. Other roads were closed for longer stretches.

Authorities were busy handling calls for weather-related accidents and slide-offs.

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Tim Ahlman and his son, Nathan, were clearing their driveway west of Flagstaff before blizzard-like conditions hit and sent snow blowing madly through the neighborhood and on Interstate 40 nearby. They planned to go inside when they were finished to start a fire and warm up.

Shoveling is good exercise, Ahlman said.

And the snow? “Well-needed to fill up some of these lakes,” he said.

In New Mexico, roads across the western and northern parts of the state were snow packed and icy Monday, with the storm bringing much-needed rain and snow to the parched state.

While some eastern plains areas had no precipitation, several inches of snow fell at higher elevations, the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said.

At this time last year, extreme and exceptional drought were nonexistent in New Mexico and Arizona.

Now, the two worst categories of drought cover more than 80% of New Mexico and nearly 94% of Arizona.