City on clean-up: 'I've never had to deal with this much snow'
PRESCOTT - Prescott officials hope their snowplows get to all the residential streets by Tuesday morning, four days after a major storm finished dumping 5-12 inches of snow over the city.
"I've never had to deal with this much snow," said Chad McDowell, field operations director for the street department who has worked for the city 14 years.
Long-time city workers estimated they hadn't seen this much snow since 1985.
Several days of below-freezing temperatures complicated road-clearing efforts. Even after being plowed, streets remained coated in about an inch of ice and the city's ice-melting mix of salt, sand and cinder didn't help much.
"We've just been inundated with calls," said McDowell, who estimated the city received more than 300 complaints daily about the ice and lack of snowplowing. He said the city will post information online about its snowplowing progress in the future, and send information to media sources.
Lisa Cole was among the angry Prescott citizens. Her family couldn't pull a car from the driveway out onto Maple Street until Sunday, with the help of chains. She estimated about a foot of snow was on the street.
"It was just frustrating not being able to get out," Cole said. Luckily, she and the kids were on holiday break, and her husband also had several days off. They had stocked up on groceries, too.
The city has only 12 snowplows to cover more than 500 miles of roads, McDowell said. The city was running 12-hour shifts 24 hours a day. The plows also drop the de-icing mix.
The plows hit major roads first, and they didn't get to residential streets until Sunday. Plows also had to be on hand when police were called to help about 100 stranded motorists, McDowell noted.
The brunt of the storm hit Wednesday through Thursday morning last week. The Weather Service is forecasting sunny skies the remainder of this work week, reaching 48 degrees by Friday.
It's a balancing act to decide how much to spend on expensive snowplow equipment and de-icing materials when these kind of snowstorms are rare, McDowell said.
"Do they really want us to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on snow that sticks only a few days?" McDowell wondered out loud.
"That's a good question," Cole said, wondering if it would be possible to subcontract some snowplow work.
It would cost a half-million annually just to convert de-icing materials to straight salt, McDowell said.
The Prescott City Council will discuss the snowplowing issue at the end of its 2 p.m. workshop today, which will be broadcast live on Access 13.
"Council will debrief staff and discuss options for increasing the city's capacity to respond and communicate with citizens," Deputy City Manager Laurie Hadley said in a Monday press release announcing the discussion.
One option might be to use sanitation trucks for snowplowing, but it's unclear if they could be retrofitted for that work, McDowell said.
The National Weather Service's Sundog measuring site on the northeast side of Prescott set two new records during the cold snap, both for lowest daily high temperatures. The high temperature was only 22 degrees on New Year's Eve and 29 degrees on New Year's Day. Previous records were 31 degrees in 1982 and 30 degrees in 1960, respectively.
Two other Yavapai County communities also set several records for cold weather as the decade changed. The snow level went down to about 2,000 feet in elevation in Arizona.
Bagdad at about 4,000 feet in elevation broke three records, setting a record-low high of 31 on New Year's Eve that broke the previous record of 42 set in 1936, a record low of 12 on New Year's Day compared to the previous record of 19 in 2007, and then a record low of 11 degrees Sunday that beat the previous record of 17 in 1960.
Cottonwood set a record-low high of 32 on New Year's Eve that broke the 1982 record of 47, a record low of 13 on New Year's Day that broke the 1983 record of 20, and then a record-low high of 36 on New Year's Day that broke the 1979 record of 42.
The Grand Canyon's South Rim hit 30 degrees below zero on New Year's Eve, according to the Weather Service. That was the coldest spot on record for northern Arizona on New Year's Eve, followed by 30 below on New Year's Day at Bellemont where the Weather Service office is coincidentally located.
Sundog's lowest temperature during the freeze was one degree below zero Sunday.
The Sundog site recorded five inches of snow. Other reports that came into the Weather Service from trained spotters included 11.5 inches five miles northwest of Prescott, 9.5 inches one mile west of Prescott and 8 inches two miles north-northwest of Prescott.
Other snow reports around Yavapai County included 17 inches in Crown King, 5.5 inches in Ash Fork, 4.5 inches in Bagdad, 3 inches in Paulden, 2.5 inches in Seligman and 2.5 inches in Dewey-Humboldt. Fire officials in Groom Creek and Walker just south of Prescott recorded two feet of snow.
The highest snow total in the Weather Service report was 30 inches at Forest Lakes, but the report didn't include northern Arizona ski areas.
The Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff reported 21-34 inches of snow from the storm, depending on the elevation.