Arizona's greatest snow storm

Climatic anomaly leaves Verde Valley buried in white stuff

The family of Paul Handverger had a ball at their home in Clarkdale in the sudden snowstorm that hit Arizona in December 1967. However, the more than three feet of snow became a danger to many families in the Verde Valley.

The family of Paul Handverger had a ball at their home in Clarkdale in the sudden snowstorm that hit Arizona in December 1967. However, the more than three feet of snow became a danger to many families in the Verde Valley.

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Jerome at 5,200 feet was buried under 41 inches of snow officially; however, five-foot drifts were everywhere and there were many drifts more than double that height.

The absolute silence in Clarkdale on the morning of Dec. 13, 1967, woke me up. I rose and opened the window shade; I could barely see the houses across Main Street through the gently falling, large snowflakes that were smothering our town. It was snowing!

I immediately woke up my family. Excitedly, we put on multiple layers of our light-weight Arizona clothes to go play outside before the snowfall stopped. After living in Clarkdale through four winters, we knew that we had to get out fast to make snowmen and throw snowballs because the white crystals could be expected to quickly change to rain drops and that would be the end of our annual chance to enjoy winter fun in our yard.

Once outside, the laughter and joy of our 9-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter and even our somewhat bewildered 1-year-old daughter were replicated up and down Main Street. By mid-morning, the snow was deep enough for snow huts and tunnels that sprouted up wherever children lived.

During this first day, the possibility never entered anybody's mind that this was the beginning of a historic weather event that would become the severest snowstorm in Arizona statehood history.

The Verde Valley daytime temperature for the two days preceding the storms was above 50 degrees. The residents of the Verde Valley and Arizona were totally unsuspecting of the impending record-making snowfall.

As with any storm system, the moisture varied throughout the Verde Valley. Jerome at 5,200 feet was buried under 41 inches of snow officially; however, five-foot drifts were everywhere and there were many drifts more than double that height. Sedona, surprisingly, received only 1.16 inches of water with a snow depth of 23.8 inches. Historical records indicate the last major snowfall in the Verde Valley had occurred in 1915, but it was lesser in magnitude than this 1967 storm.

The Cottonwood radio station was the principal source used for transmitting information to the citizenry from governmental, police, fire, utility, medical and civil defense officials. Individuals throughout the community not only took care of themselves, but many went out in the storm to help neighbors, especially the elderly and infirm, making sure they were safe and had necessities such as food, medicines, heat and human contact during the period of the isolating storm. The Mingus Union High School students gave their time and energy to shovel the heavy wet snow off roofs as well as clearing paths for those needing help. The Verde Valley citizens became a unified, caring, compassionate community.

There were structure fires that resulted in the total loss of buildings because streets were not open to passage of fire equipment during the first days of the snowfall. No snowplows were available in the Verde Valley. A county road grader was used to clear the principal streets of Cottonwood and Clarkdale. The Town of Jerome was blanketed under about four feet of snow with the wind-blown snow blocking every street and huge drifts almost burying some houses. The large rubber-tired Cement Plant loader, using its bucket as a blade, cleared community streets and kept the Clarkdale-Jerome highway open.

Just a few hours after the Cottonwood-Clemenceau Airport runway was cleared of snow by the county grader on the third day of the storm, the World War II Quonset hut hanger at the airport collapsed under the weight of the heavy wet snow. In the space of a few moments, all the aircraft were seriously damaged or destroyed.

As the snow began to let up on about the fifth day, a state snowplow led a milk truck and a mail truck from Prescott via Cordes Junction into Cottonwood. The relatively new I-17 Black Canyon Highway did have one-lane traffic on Monday, the sixth day of the storm.

Beginning on the final days of the storm and lasting through Christmas, the slope down to Bitter Creek behind the houses along upper Main Street and First North in Clarkdale became a snow resort playground. The hillside was covered with children and adults of all ages swishing, sliding, plummeting, and piling up amid the sounds of excited bilingual voices, laughter and screams.

Schools that had been closed by the storm had the long Christmas vacation to get prepared to open on schedule the first week of January. Children excitedly talked about their vacation of snow activities. Finally, in the spring, the Verde River swelled up with melt water carrying away the last evidence of the great snowstorm of 1967 -- except for the memories.

Sources of material from P. Handverger notes, Donald Hahn notes, Internet sites including http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/psr/general/history, "Verde Independent" historical files

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