Arizona December 21, 2016
A Terrifying, Deadly Storm Struck Arizona In 1967 And No One Saw It Coming
Think Arizona is all sunshine and cactus? Not exactly! There seems to be a common misconception among non-Arizonans that it doesn’t snow here at all but we can, and often do, have a white Christmas.
All regions of the state typically see some amount of snow every year—whether it’s sitting right out the front door or on a not-too-distant mountain. We’ve even had blizzards some years and today, we’ll be highlighting on particularly brutal one that occurred almost a half-century ago.
Unfortunately, we were unable to use photos from the 1967 storm but you can
take a peek at them at this link. It’s pretty amazing! A similar storm occurred in 2010, though less severe, so we’re including photos from that event to help illustrate the scenario.
In the days before Christmas 1967, snow began falling in Arizona’s high country, promising a beautiful, glistening landscape just in time for the holiday. Sounds lovely, right? Within the first day a foot or so fell in most areas of Arizona but it didn’t stop. In fact, the snowfall didn’t stop for eight days.
Within the first 24 hours, Flagstaff received about one foot and within 72 hours, the city received more than four feet. Other areas of the state reported similar amounts of snow and residents braced themselves as another storm rolled in immediately after the first, dumping equal amounts of snow and burying towns under it all.
The amount of snow that fell in those eight days varies: Greer saw 99 inches (8.25 feet), Mount Lemmon had 84 inches (7 feet), and Payson reported 77 inches (almost 6.5 feet). The greatest amount of snow officially recorded was in Hawley Lake, which measured at 91 inches (about 7.5 feet) by the National Weather Service two days after the storm ended but the area reportedly received 102 inches for the duration of the storm. It’s possible, however, that many areas received even more.
According to the National Weather Service, the cause of all the mayhem was an “omega block,” which is extremely strong high pressure that stays in one spot and prevents other weather patterns from moving through. This caused a ridiculously heavy snowfall that would not continue moving to other parts of the state or country.
With so much of the state residing in rural areas, residents found themselves snowbound for days. My father was living in Steamboat on the Navajo Nation that year and he remembers four to five feet of snow falling over the course of the storm, reaching taller than he was at the time. He told me that his family was stuck in the house for a few additional days until they were able to finally dig their way out. Even though his family was poor, they did have supplies to sustain them during and after the storm.
Others weren’t so lucky. Many Arizonans ran low on supplies, got lost seeking help or food, and some died. With such heavy snowfall and so many of the roads unplowed or simply unpaved, traveling away from home to purchase supplies was nearly impossible. Additionally, nine people were known to have died as a result of the storm, most from exposure, but it's possible more deaths went unreported.
This caused an emergency situation where helicopters went on a search for people believed to be lost and to deliver food, livestock feed, and emergency kits to those stranded in the feet deep snow. Plenty of buildings around the state reported damages and people waited days in some areas for a plow to dig through the deep, deep snow.
In 2010, Arizona saw a similar snowstorm drop several feet of snow and rendered many of the rural residents stranded in their homes. While not as severe, residents saw many similar impacts on their lives, with some families unable to leave their homes for days (or weeks) as they waited for the snow to thaw.
Want to read more interesting tidbits about Arizona history? You might want to start with reading this short article,
7 Things You Didn’t Know About The History Of Arizona, which features events you probably didn’t learn in school.