The snow – or whatever it was – that blanketed northern Scottsdale in late February was a welcome departure from the norm for many residents, but the aberration posed serious safety and logistical problems for the city Public Works Department.
Just ask driver Jorge Vera, whose trash truck got stuck in the snow on Feb. 21 near Jomax Road and 110th Place.
Scottsdale Public Works Executive Director Dan Worth said the city ultimately made the decision to pull drivers off the road due to wet, slippery conditions that made it unsafe.
Worth said the snow started around noon and started sticking to the roads by early afternoon, causing trucks to slide and experience difficulty climbing hills.
“We’re not going to leave an operator out there in an unsafe situation,” Worth said.
The city – which has no snow plows for obvious reasons – sent full crews out overnight with road graders to clear major streets.
“We know how to mobilize for bad weather in the Streets Department,” Worth said. “It’s the same equipment they use when we have monsoon storms.”
Most of the snow was cleared by the next day and the department was able to service routes and get back on schedule over the next couple of days, Worth said.
Servicing typical routes was not the only problem created by the cold snap, though.
Following the precipitation, the city began receiving calls for help from home owners associations that needed help clearing fallen trees.
Worth said that the city collected 725 tons of green waste in six days – half the total 1,400 tons the city collected in all of 2018.
He said 100 percent of that waste was delivered to a green waste recycling facility the city contracts with on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community that turns it into products like compost and mulch.
Worth said the city is still receiving calls for service from residents who were not in town during the storm.
Unlike the Streets Department, Solid Waste is not used to responding to that kind of volume.
Worth said “this was above and beyond the normal workload” and the city had to utilize the full solid waste crew and pull employees in from other departments to meet the demand.
He said the city also had to borrow equipment from the City of Phoenix under a sharing agreement with several Valley cities that began a few years ago following flooding in Mesa.
While there is no doubt that the precipitation had a major effect on Scottsdale, there is some disagreement about whether or not what caused those issues was actually snow.
Social media was littered with photos from residents showing their properties blanketed in the white stuff, but meteorologists have argued those photos show graupel, not snow.
Graupel, also called snow pellets, is essentially soft hail that can form on very cold days and looks similar to snow when it settles on the ground.
Bianca Hernandez, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that snow only fell at elevations of 3,000 feet and above, according to the Associated Press.
Much of Scottsdale’s elevation is below 2,000 feet. For instance, the elevation of Scottsdale Airport is 1,510 feet.
However, the city’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve has elevations in some areas exceeding 4,000 feet.
According to the city, the preserve received more than seven inches of snow.
Historically, snow is not totally unheard of in Scottsdale.
On Jan. 2, 1973, Scottsdale Airport reported that it received one-half inch of snow, according to a Scottsdale Daily Progress story the next day.
There’s no mention of graupel in that report, though Jack Hales, chief weather forecaster for the National Weather Service, told the paper that much of the snow in the Valley consisted of “very wet” snowflakes, noting that snow in Paradise Valley and North Scottsdale was “very significant.”
In 1970, the Daily Progress caused a spike in sales of snow-related gear throughout the city when it ran a front-page photo announcing snow in Scottsdale on April Fool’s Day. The paper reportedly received 47 phone calls from residents about the photo before it retracted the hoax the next day.
The reports of snow, or graupel, in Scottsdale in February was no joke, though, and Worth, for one, does not expect to see that type of precipitation in the city again anytime soon.
Joking that he moved away from his native New York to avoid dealing with snow, Worth said, “Every day we get new, surprising situations, but this is obviously a very rare event and I don’t expect we’re going to see one like it again.”