Experts wowed by winter wonderland - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Experts wowed by winter wonderland

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Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 5:11 am | Updated: 5:57 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Storms brought flurries of snow, torrents of rain and record-low temperatures to Arizona this weekend — part of a cold snap that will continue through this morning.

Last week, East Valley temperatures dropped to a point residents haven’t seen in over a decade, plummeting nearly 20 degrees below the average for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service issued a freeze warning Monday, urging Arizona residents to prepare for temperatures that could drop below freezing in outlying areas. The warning is in effect until 9 a.m. today.

The weather service described the freeze as marginal and advised it wouldn’t be as severe as cold weather earlier this month.

“It’s very unusual,” said David Runyan, a weather service meteorologist. “We haven’t seen temperatures like that for over 15 years.”

Runyan said the two storm systems that visited Arizona last week are now headed out of the state, so East Valley residents should expect warmer weather in upcoming days.

The weather service forecast for the rest of this week shows mostly clear skies, highs in the mid-60s and temperatures at night dipping into the upper 30s.

But the surprising weather represented more than just a chance for snowball fi ghts.

It also helped replenish Arizona’s dangerously low reservoirs and gave hope to skiers that Arizona’s resorts will have a better base of snow.

Rain and snow arrived at a time when the state’s fresh water reservoirs have approached dangerously low levels. Hydrologists who work for Salt River Project said the precipitation and expected runoff from melting snow will help bolster water reserves at Roosevelt Lake and throughout the state.

“It’s always good news when we get some snowpack,” said Scott Harelson, an SRP spokesman. “It has been pretty grim. We’ve had some really, really dry years.”

Tim Skarupa, a senior hydrologist at SRP, said last week’s storms increased reservoir levels by nearly 20 percent. However, Skarupa added that on average, reservoirs are still only 70 percent full, compared with the average measured over the past 30 years.

“We got a good pulse,” Skarupa said. “One good storm out here in Arizona can really change the outlook. But it’s important to get another storm.”

Reports from Sunrise Park ski resort in northeastern Arizona indicate that some slopes are now covered by 50 inches of snow. In some areas, nearly 20 inches of snow fell at the end of last week. Half the ski lifts at Sunrise are now open, according to the resort’s Web site.

Officials from Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort near Flagstaff, said they’re hoping to open this week, after strong winds blew in several inches of snow.

“It looks pretty darn good,” said Dave Smith, a Snowbowl spokesman. “Our hope is to get rockin’ and rollin’ as soon as we can.”

Smith added the resort was preparing for a bout of strong winds which might bring more snow — or it could have an effect similar to gusts that early last week reached 70 mph, blowing snow away from the mountain and frustrating ski bums who have waited months for Snowbowl to open.

“I haven’t seen anything like that before,” Smith said.

Some roadways throughout Arizona were impassable late last week, as drivers lost control on slick roads and caused traffic to pile up in the East Valley and north toward Payson.

Cars were reported sliding off a stretch of U.S. 60 near Superior, causing backups and tying up crews from the Arizona Department of Transportation and offi cers from the Department of Public Safety.

Doug Nintzel, an ADOT spokesman, said drivers heading to snowy areas should pack emergency equipment, such as shovels, fl ashlights and extra batteries, water and snacks.

“One of our major concerns is that people will head for the snow without being prepared,” Nintzel said. “There are lots of areas where you can slide off the highway.”

Runyan said the storms were likely tied to El Niño weather patterns, which are expected to bring more rain to Arizona in the coming months.

According to weather service reports, parts of Arizona last week were among the wettest in the country, as some areas in the southeastern portion of the state received about 4 inches of rain.

However, meteorologists are still waiting for the full effects of El Niño, Runyan said.

“What’s basically frustrating weatherpeople is that the storm system should bring more precipitation to the desert Southwest. But it hasn’t yet,” he said.

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