As of 9 p.m this evening, Interstate 17 has been closed in both directions due to deteriorating conditions on the freeway.
Northbound, it's closed at the Highway 179 junction headed to Sedona.
Southbound it's closed at the Flagstaff airport exit, and a line of traffic miles long was backed up there as of 6 p.m., ADOT stated. There will be access for locals (Mountainaire, Kachina Village, for example) headed home, but they're likely to face long waits in traffic for part of this evening.
Near Sedona, only people going to Sedona are allowed through northbound.
In all, more than 150 motorists have needed emergency assistance today as a major winter storm roared through the Flagstaff region.
No deaths or major injuries were reported by emergency crews, who were kept busy with rollovers, slideoffs and collisions as night fell and the snow piled up.
By Thursday morning, up to 18 inches of snow is expected to be on the ground, according to the National Weather Service in Bellemont, with up to 5 more inches due today and tonight.
Winds tonight are expected to gust to 40 mph, dropping to 30 mph today.
Frigid cold will move in behind the storm, with the temperature dropping to 18 degrees by 10 a.m. Thursday, then plummeting Thursday and Friday night to near zero.
ACCESS SHUT OFF
Access to Flagstaff from the south was virtually shut off after northbound Interstate 17 and Highway 89A were closed to traffic.
I-17 was closed at about 4 p.m. at the Highway 179 junction to Sedona, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. Motorists were turned around to head back south.
Interstate 17 “is flat-out dangerous with icy conditions,” said DPS spokesman Bart Graves.
Highway 89A was closed at the base of the switchbacks north to Forest Highlands at 2 p.m.
Delays and intermittent closures were seen along Interstate 40 near Ash Fork Hill and Williams, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Emergency responders said multiple rollovers and slide-offs were largely responsible for the delays.
State Route 87 had a multi-vehicle collision and a 15-car backup just south of Payson, blocking both the north and southbound lanes. The road was later reopened.
ACCIDENTS PILE UP
DPS Sgt. Gary Phelps said that between 5:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, officers responded to 43 collisions, eight of which involved minor injury. Officers responded to an additional 78 reports of slide-offs and motorist assists.
Lt. Dan Musselman of the Flagstaff Police Department reported that there had been 33 weather-related vehicle accidents in the city from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., with no reports of any major injuries.
Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department, said there had been 13 non-injury collisions as well two collisions with minor injuries reported in the county between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Officials with Flagstaff Medical Center reported a total of nine injuries from weather-related accidents as of Wednesday afternoon.
Coconino County closed a portion of Lake Mary Road, also known as Forest Highway 3, due to heavy snow, leading to a bypass through the community of Mormon Lake.
Drivers were able to go no faster than 30 mph on area interstates, and some drivers on Interstate 17 reported 2-hour-long delays in getting from the scenic overlook south of Munds Park into Flagstaff.
Flagstaff drivers were starting to fishtail around the city by 1:30 p.m., with drivers sliding into roadsides and ditches, and turning around abruptly when vehicles couldn’t make it up hills, including on Cedar Hill.
US Airways canceled several flights into and out of Flagstaff Pulliam Airport Wednesday morning and had tentatively canceled two Thursday morning flights. The airport remained open, despite the cancellations.
Visibility was down to a half-mile at the Grand Canyon and down to a quarter-mile in Flagstaff, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Breckenridge said.
City officials also increased staffing downtown to better enforce the winter parking ordinance.
No warnings were given due to the severity of the storm and any vehicle found in violation will be immediately towed to give snow plows the necessary clearance to remove snow. It was unknown how many vehicles were towed overnight.
The law requires vehicles to be off city streets between midnight and 7 a.m. The downtown business district requires vehicles to be off the streets by 3 a.m. It was unclear Wednesday afternoon as to when city snow plows would begin clearing residential areas.
“Non-essential” city and county employees were being asked to come in later this morning after being sent home at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. The Flagstaff Aquaplex will open late today at 10 a.m.
Mail delivery is continuing as usual wherever roads are open.
“We're to deliver to every place we can get to if it's safe for the carriers to get there,” said Gerald Vinson, postmaster for Flagstaff.
LOW OF 29 IN PHOENIX
Rain soaked the Phoenix area and much of south-central Arizona, and temperatures were expected to be as much as 15 degrees below normal.
Breckenridge said low temperatures in the Phoenix area were expected to hit 29 degrees Friday morning.
“It’s really going to be getting cold,” he said, adding that Phoenix hasn’t seen such temperatures since January 2007 and rarely gets this cold.
Snow accumulations of up to 2 feet were expected in areas with elevations above 6,500 feet; up to a foot of snow could fall at elevations between 5,000 and 6,500 feet.
A blizzard warning was issued in parts of eastern and southeastern Arizona, including the White Mountains, the Galiuro and Pinaleno Mountains, Catalina and Rincon Mountains, and Mount Graham.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office warned backcountry skiers and others to be alert for potential avalanche danger on the San Francisco Peaks.
Blair said heavy snowfall often causes avalanches during or shortly after a storm, and that backcountry travelers need to be aware that no avalanche control or patrols are conducted on the backside of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
State Route 89A from Flagstaff to Oak Creek Canyon is closed and snow plows are struggling to keep up with snowfall in Flagstaff.
Emergency responders are assisting amid multiple roll-overs and cars slid off of roads and freeways here.
Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff, and Interstate 40 in the Ash Fork Hill and Williams areas are problem areas right now, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Drivers are reporting two-hour-long delays in getting from the scenic overlook south of Munds Park into Flagstaff.
One motorist reported traffic was at a standstill in the northbound lanes of Interstate 17 near Camp Verde.
Four non-injury crashes had been reported as of 12:30 p.m., said Sgt. Gary Phelps of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
According to information from the Arizona Department of Transportation, the winter storm is creating icy and snowy conditions on the roadways.
ADOT has closed State Route 89A between mileposts 386 (Pumphouse Wash) and 397 (Forest Highlands), in order to send those plows to Interstate 17.
That portion of SR 89A will remain closed for at least 24 hours.
Road crews continue to monitor conditions while plow drivers remove snow from roadways and lay down chemical deicer.
In the city and county, police and sheriff's deputies are responding to traffic mishaps said Lt. Dan Musselman of the police department.
Musselman reports there had been 18 weather-related auto accidents in the city since 6 a.m. with no reports of any major injuries. Those were the totals as of 1 p.m.
Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department, said there have been five non-injury collisions as well as seven collisions with minor injuries reported in the county since 6 a.m.
Coconino County has closed a portion of Lake Mary Road, also known as Forest Highway-3, due to heavy snow, leading to a bypass through the community of Mormon Lake.
City officials were uncertain as of Wednesday afternoon as to when city snow plows would be able to begin plowing in residential areas.
US Airways has canceled its remaining flights into and out of Flagstaff Pulliam Airport this morning, citing inclement weather.
Two morning flights tomorrow to Phoenix have also been tentatively canceled as well. The airport is scheduled to remain open despite the cancellations.
City officials have increased staffing downtown to better enforce the winter parking ordinance.
No warnings will be given due to the severity of the storm and any vehicle found in violation will be immediately towed to give snow plows the necessary clearance to remove snow.
The law requires vehicles to be off city streets between midnight and 7 a.m. The downtown business district requires vehicles to be off the streets by 3 a.m.
Non-essential city and county employees were sent home at 3 p.m. today with a late start scheduled for tomorrow.
The Flagstaff Aquaplex will close today at 5:30 p.m.
Another early closure will be Lowell Observatory at 4 p.m. The observatory will open late Thursday at noon and may be adjusted further depending on weather. For more information, call 233-3210.
In total, there are currently 36 pieces of snow removal equipment out on city roads currently focused on removing snow from main roads.
For more information on road conditions, visit www.az511.gov.
Following are the latest snowfall totals from the National Weather Service in Bellemont:
SNOWFALL REPORTS AS OF 8 PM MST...
2 N PARKS 11.0 730 PM 12/29
4 S WILLIAMS 8.5 629 PM 12/29
FOREST LAKES 8.0 650 PM 12/29
MUNDS PARK 8.0 341 PM 12/29
ARIZONA SNOWBOWL 8.0 428 PM 12/29
BELLEMONT 7.6 500 PM 12/29
6 NW FLAGSTAFF 6.5 349 PM 12/29
WILLIAMS 6.0 315 PM 12/29
FLAGSTAFF 6.0 400 PM 12/29
6 S PRESCOTT 6.0 300 PM 12/29
TONTO VILLAGE 4.0 307 PM 12/29
CLINTS WELL 4.0 320 PM 12/29
PINE 4.0 300 PM 12/29
17 SW FLAGSTAFF 4.0 645 PM 12/29
10 NNE PAYSON 4.0 300 PM 12/29
14 N PAYSON 4.0 315 PM 12/29
10 N SEDONA 3.5 422 PM 12/29
5 NW PRESCOTT 3.5 230 PM 12/29
5 N ASH FORK 3.0 316 PM 12/29
14 NE PAYSON 3.0 200 PM 12/29
PRESCOTT 2.0 330 PM 12/29
2 N MCNARY 2.0 450 PM 12/29
DONEY PARK 1.0 342 PM 12/29
PEAK WIND GUST REPORTS AS OF 4 PM MST...
DONEY PARK ............... 60 MPH.
FLAGSTAFF ................ 49 MPH.
GRAND CANYON ............. 41 MPH.
PRESCOTT ................. 31 MPH.
SAINT JOHNS .............. 39 MPH.
SHOW LOW ................. 43 MPH.
WUPATKI .................. 51 MPH.
WINSLOW................... 48 MPH.