While the East Valley inched closer to normal rainfall totals for the year, northern Arizona was inundated by rain instead of expected snow Wednesday.
The Valley received about four-tenths of an inch of rain by midday Wednesday, about six-tenths short of that needed to bump total rainfall to normal — a level the area hasn’t seen since 1998. Rain continued to fall throughout the evening.
During the storm, temperatures remained in the 60s because of a flow of tropical air preceding the center of the storm, which lingered on Wednesday over Southern California, according to the National Weather Service in Phoenix.
The warm weather meant northern Arizona was inundated with unexpected rain and flash flooding. Mudslides and rockslides resulted. People living in low-lying areas of Sedona were being urged to evacuate, said Matt Shobert, Sedona fire district deputy chief.
Erosion of the creek bank, minor flooding in some homes and people stranded in waterlogged vehicles were reported. An evacuation center was established at Sedona’s Red Rock High School.
By midmorning Wednesday, heavy rain caused the water in Oak Creek, northeast of Sedona along state Highway 89A, to rise from about 3 feet to 14 feet. It was expected to crest Wednesday evening at 16 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
Rain water was also caused some canyon walls to collapse in Oak Creek Canyon, making it unsafe even for emergency crews.
The Department of Public Safety closed a 14-mile section of state Highway 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff for the day. It was unclear when it would reopen.
The Tlaquepaque Bridge at state Route 179 was also closed after flooding caused minor damage to shops and galleries in the area. Roads also flooded south of Sedona in northern Gila County, and the county sheriff’s office warned motorists not to travel flooded county roads or creek crossings.
Widespread rain was expected to persist throughout the day, causing possible flash flooding stretching from Sedona to Cornville to the southwest. Up to 2.4 inches of rain had fallen over some areas, said George Howard, a meteorologist with the weather service in Flagstaff.
Area agencies and tourists said the mild temperatures accompanying the storm were odd.
Valerie Iverson of Scottsdale returned home from a family vacation to the Cottonwood-Sedona canyon area with her husband and two sons after dark clouds approached early Tuesday. “It was surprisingly mild up there, a mild night, too,” Iverson said. “We were camped out right by the Verde River.”
By Tuesday afternoon, rain began to drizzle, then pour as the family returned home from what was to be a mountain bike trip. As they left, Iverson said many large RVs stayed behind. “I think they were snowbirds in really big campers,” she said.
Campgrounds were unexpectedly inundated with rain. “We were expecting to wake up to a foot of snow,” said Coconino National Forest spokeswoman Raquel Poturalski.
Mike Bruce of the National Weather Service in Phoenix said a cold front moving in this afternoon would turn the rain to snow, but even then, conditions would be hazardous. “All of this rain we’re getting will create a sheet of ice under the snow,” Poturalski added, saying that drivers heading north would need to check road conditions all weekend.
And skiers will need to check the slopes. Arizona Snowbowl closed down Wednesday due to high winds, said general manager J.R. Murray. “We’re not able to operate the chairlift safely,” he said.
Murray said closures due to winds happen at Snowbowl a few times a year. “Unfortunately, this time it’s coming up on a holiday weekend and we’ve got 10 inches of snow,” he said.
But Murray said the ski area would open at 9 a.m. Thursday and every day of the holiday weekend.
Tribune writer Beth Lucas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.