Wacky weather in the Sonoran Desert Foothills: Snow, hail, sleet, rain and sunshine all in one week!

By TARA ALATORRE

NEW RIVER – This past week brought a flurry of weather with a wet winter storm that pushed its way through Maricopa County and other parts of the state, dropping temperatures to record lows and bringing heavy rain, hail, snow, sleet and graupel showers to one of the hottest cities in the nation.

Pictured: Anthem Way and Gavilan Peak Parkway covered in hail on Feb. 21. Photo by Karen Alexander
Pictured: Anthem Way and Gavilan Peak Parkway covered in hail on Feb. 21. Photo by Karen Alexander

The storm arrived on Thursday, February 21, bringing heavy rain fall with thunder and lightning storms showering downtown Phoenix all the way north to the Rio Verde area, where the rain started converting to snow around the elevation of 3,500 feet.  

New River and Anthem also had heavy hail storms, and areas of Cave Creek and north Scottsdale were already beginning to see snow fall accumulate that same evening.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a flood warning for Maricopa County and Pinal County that remained in effect from Thursday to the morning of Friday, February 22.

Pictured: In Carefree during a unique snow storm on the afternoon of Feb. 21 on the corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Way. Photo by Tara Alatorre/Staff
Pictured: In Carefree during a unique snow storm on the afternoon of Feb. 21 on the corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Way. Photo by Tara Alatorre/Staff

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport broke the daily rainfall record for Feb. 21, with a total of 1.01-inches.  The previous rainfall  record for that date was in 1973 with.73-inches, according to NWS.

The communities north of Phoenix that are located below 3,000 feet also witnessed a lot of graupel, which are snowflakes that collect supercooled water droplets on the outer surface and form at above freezing temperatures at the surface, but is very cold in the air, according to tweet from the NWS Phoenix office.

Pictured: The snow-capped peaks near I-17 and Table Mesa after the storm last week. Photo courtesy of Megan Alexander
Pictured: The snow-capped peaks near I-17 and Table Mesa after the storm last week. Photo courtesy of Megan Alexander

On Friday evening the winter storm had caused temperatures to drop drastically down to the low 30s and the NWS had a winter storm warning in effect for elevations above 3,000 feet.  The precipitation lasted nearly continuously for over 24 hours from Thursday to Friday across the Phoenix Valley; including the Sonoran Desert Foothills communities which experienced more extreme and unique  weather conditions.

With the weather also arrived the blizzard of hashtags, #snowmaggedon, #snowpocalypse or #hellfrozeover were some used to describe the stunning soft blanket of snow covering the typically sunny, hot and harsh desert landscape.

By the weekend social media was flooded with residents and visitors posting about the once-in-a-lifetime snow storm in the desert, as the snow-capped cacti pictures started trending on Instagram as quickly as Phoenix’s weather forecasts would warm up.

It was quite surreal to see the Valley surrounded by snowy peaks with the Superstitions, Four Peaks, McDowell Mountains, Black Mountain, Spur Cross, the Bradshaws and even South Mountain all getting a beautiful white dusting of snow that momentarily transformed the Sonoran Desert into a winter wonderland.

The Maricopa County Parks closed Spur Cross, Cave Creek Regional Park, Lake Pleasant and McDowell Mountain trails from Feb. 22 to Feb. 25, to horses and mountain bikes due to the heavy snow and rain.

At the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, the rangers reported that the Cave Creek’s flow had increased significantly to 100-cubic-feet-per-second on February 25.  Also, that most of the foot bridges had been washed away or submerged due to flooding and trail access would be limited until repairs are made.

Meteorologists reported up to one-foot of snow in the Cave Creek/Carefree area and New River saw .25-inches of snow accumulate by the weekend. 

Phoenix also experienced the coldest-ever February 22, with a high of 47-degrees Fahrenheit, the previous record being 54-degrees in 1897, according to NWS.

Arizona continued to see record low temperatures across the state into Saturday, February 23, but this week has already brought warmer weather and sunshine back to the Valley of the Sun.