FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A late winter storm that dumped heavy snow in parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico is expected to give way to sunny skies and warmer temperatures later this week, melting much of what's on the ground.
The storm that hit over the weekend left 2 feet or more of snow in Flagstaff, Williams and Prescott, and up to a foot in northern New Mexico. While March typically is the snowiest month of the year in Flagstaff, it doesn't usually come from a single storm, weather forecasters said.
"It will be pretty cool (Tuesday), especially with all that snow cover, but we're going to see things warm up pretty quickly," said Chris Outler of the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
With higher temperatures forecast for later this week come concerns about avalanches in the backcountry areas of the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona and high traffic to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, which reported 53 inches of snowfall from the storm, and other snow play areas. Authorities said motorists should plan for delays and consider alternate travel routes, as well as prepare for slide-offs or for becoming stranded with warm clothes, extra food and plenty of fuel.
Heavy snowfall, gusty winds, rapid warming and new snow atop weak layers are signs that avalanches could develop, said Coconino County sheriff's Sgt. Aaron Dick. One person died in 1995 in a northern Arizona avalanche, while skiers have been buried beneath snow in more recent years, he said. With fresh snow, skiers and others could be tempted to head into the mountainous backcountry, he said, but shouldn't do so without being prepared.
"This is the biggest storm we've seen this year, so people get excited about powder, and we understand that," Dick said. "We just want to make sure people are safe when they're venturing out there."
The winter storm led to school closures and knocked out power to parts of Arizona and New Mexico over the weekend. Motorists who became stranded on Interstate 40 in northern Arizona were allowed back on the road Monday morning after a daylong closure, but authorities urged caution as snow continued to fall.
A winter storm warning was in effect until midnight Monday for northern and western New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona. Snow showers were expected to diminish after sunset, as were gusty winds but not before creating potentially hazardous driving conditions along Interstate 40 near the Arizona-New Mexico border.