Kids rode sleds and built snowmen in east Mesa on Sunday after rain, snow and sleet drenched the East Valley and capped nearby mountains with white.
It was hardly a typical January day in the Arizona desert, where winter temperatures tend to hover in the 60s and 70s, and snow is a sight seen only in higher elevations.
The National Weather Service doesn’t track snowfall in Cave Creek or north Phoenix, but officials said the last time snow fell at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was in December 1998. Snow did not fall there on Sunday.
While most of Gilbert and Chandler were left untouched by the icy gust of winter, a patch of wet snow fell near Recker and McKellips roads Sunday evening, bringing out more than 100 residents for some rare wintery fun.
Justin Nelson, 6, made his first snowman with his father Brad in east Mesa, while other kids enjoyed snowball fights.
The icy storm also dusted snowflakes across north Phoenix near state Route 51 and Shea Boulevard, as well as near Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road.
Children in Cave Creek peeked out of their windows about 4:30 p.m. to watch white flurries float down.
The sun made a brief appearance in Mesa in the late afternoon. Its rays crisscrossed the clouds and created a rainbow spotted by residents in south Phoenix.
The wintry mix coated several roads, making it slick in some areas. But while the weather aggravated several drivers, it amazed many residents.
“It comes down like snow, then turns to bitty balls of ice,” said Heather Antrim, of south Cave Creek. “There’s ice all over our chairs, our grass and our pool.”
Cave Creek resident Donna Russ said she wasn’t surprised to see snow on nearby mountains when she woke up Sunday morning.
“The kids wanted to go out and play in it, and I said ‘Wait until we get a little more,’” Russ said.
Weather service meteorologist Keith Kincaid called the recent storm a “pretty cold system” since temperatures sank far below the day’s normal high.
“The average high should be about 68 degrees today and we’re sitting at 48 degrees,” Kincaid said, “so you’re talking 20 degrees below our normal temperature.”
Kincaid noted, though, that the temperature doesn’t need to be as low as 32 degrees for snow to fall.
The severe weather conditions forced temporary road closures in and out of Payson and shut down U.S. 60 from Globe to state Route 73.
Authorities also shut down roads in Prescott where ice coated the pavement and motorists pulled into rest stops to ride inner tubes down snowy hills.
“I don’t think it’s been this cold for a long time,” said Marenann Dolivier, 70, of Gilbert.
“The last time I saw snow was years ago in Tucson,” said Adrianne Juniper, 26, of Mesa.
Dolivier and Juniper were among about a dozen people eating dinner at west Mesa’s Blue Adobe restaurant during the storm.
“What’s better to do than come here to eat spicy food to warm up?” said Sharle Dille, 45, as she finished her dinner.
Local emergency dispatchers reported some minor crashes around the East Valley, some of which were possibly weather-related. They also said residents had called 911 to alert them to the unusual weather.
While many Arizona natives were shivering and complaining that it was freezing, to Dan Milicevic, it was downright balmy.
The former resident of Buffalo, N.Y., said he enjoyed the wet wintry weather. Back in his old hometown on Sunday, temperatures were recorded in the 20s with some flurries.
“This is nothing to me,” Milicevic said. “It’s refreshing and a nice change from the typical 120 degrees.”
Meteorologists expect the cold and precipitation to ease this morning and the sky to clear in the afternoon and night. The end of the week will likely bring some drier, warmer weather.
Tribune Executive Editor Jim Ripley contributed to this report