Snow in N. Arizona ahead of extreme cold

Posted at 10:55 PM, Dec 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-15 00:55:46-05

A storm that dumped snow on northern Arizona left traffic crawling along powder-packed highways and canceled schools Monday, with blistering cold weather expected to follow in its wake.

"It was wonderful to wake up to snow," Cape Cod tourist Richard Grandmont said. "We had about three, four inches in Sedona this morning and it made it beautiful but the temperature is not very satisfactory."

Grandmont is visiting Arizona with his wife. They've been visiting for five days but they're cutting their trip short and headed back home, where they say it's actually warmer.

"We're getting out, trying to avoid any ice that might happen,” he said. "This is not what we were anticipating, coming out to Arizona. We were hoping it was going to be a little bit warmer."

A small community west of Flagstaff had one of the lowest recorded temperatures in the Lower 48 states at sunrise Sunday at zero degrees, said David Vonderheide of the National Weather Service. Temperatures were warmer Monday in Bellemont but were expected to dip to between minus-8 and minus-10 degrees Wednesday, he said.

Truck driver Brian Crawford is no stranger to the snow, being from Ontario. But he said this weather doesn't make his job any easier.

"Everybody down there is going brrr, putting fur coats on."

The region hasn't seen temperatures at or below zero in nearly a year, forecasters said.


"People wanting to get out to work that morning, it's going to be frigid," he said.

The morning commute Monday was slow as the first band of snow showers neared its end. A second was expected as people go home for the evening. Flagstaff and Williams closed their schools. City and county offices, and some Navajo Nation offices let nonessential employees go home early.

Drivers headed north on Interstate 17 about 40 miles south of Flagstaff had been at a standstill because of the snow. Traffic resumed later, but the Arizona Department of Transportation urged people to stay off the highway if possible. State Route 89A through Oak Creek Canyon was closed in the morning.

Several inches of snow was expected in and around Flagstaff, north of the Grand Canyon and Prescott by the end of Monday. Forecasters said wind gusts of up to 40 mph will send the snow swirling and further complicate travel.

Meanwhile, rain fell in central and southern Arizona and freezing temperatures were expected overnight.

Tuesday's forecast calls for a slight chance of showers in northern Arizona ahead of the extreme cold.

Bellemont's low temperatures are due to its location. The community sits in a flat area surrounded by low hills where cold air struggles to escape south and instead "fills up sort of like a bathtub," Vonderheide said. At 7,100 feet, it's slightly higher in elevation than Flagstaff.

"There are mornings every winter where Bellemont is the coldest in the Lower 48," he said.

Despite that notoriety, it doesn't hold the record for the lowest temperature ever in Arizona. That designation goes to a place called Hawley Lake in the White Mountains at minus-40 degrees on Jan. 7, 1971.