Winter storm expected to create treacherous roads

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

A big winter storm expected to bring treacherous driving conditions to Arizona this weekend has the state Department of Transportation beefing up resources and warning drivers of the dangers.

Despite the potential for more than a foot of snow across the higher elevations, at least one group of 20 hikers from the Valley plans to brave the elements. They’re driving up to Grand Canyon late Friday for a two-day hike, and returning to the Valley Monday, while the storm is expected to be in full swing.

Besides bringing proper winter gear for a 7-mile hike on the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, Emily Awbrey of Scottsdale says the hikers are carrying a few extras in their cars, in case their trip takes an unexpected turn.

“On my feet, to make sure I have traction with the ice or snow, I have crampons or YakTrax,” said Awbrey. “I have a sleeping bag, my sleeping pad. I’m going to have extra clothes, food, water, a lighter, maybe a candle if needed.”

“Sometimes you could get stuck in the snow. You could all of a sudden drive into a bunch of it, or perhaps skid off the road,” said Garin Groff, Arizona Department of Transportation public information officer.

On Tuesday, 16 Northern Arizona University students, two instructors and two aides were stranded at the North Rim of Grand Canyon after their vans became trapped in at least 16 inches of snow. They were rescued by an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter.

Groff warns that those driving through the mountains need to pack enough to keep warm, fed and hydrated should their vehicles become trapped, along with a few winter tools.

“Ice scraper, flashlight with fresh batteries, you want your cellphone, fully charged. For traction in case you get stuck in the snow or ice, you want some sand or kitty litter and also a folding shovel,” said Groff.

Groff says ADOT has 214 snow plows at its disposal, with 450 drivers ready to clear paths for travelers and report any hazards to the traffic operations center, where dispatchers will launch warnings on message boards scattered across the state. They also have a network of several hundred cameras showing real-time conditions of roadways.

“I would say watch the forecast. Know what you’re getting into and what time you’re traveling, going up before the storm, versus during the storm,” said Awbrey.

For the latest road conditions, drivers can dial 511 on a phone, check the website AZ511.gov, or follow ADOT's Twitter page @ArizonaDOT.

The 3TV Forecasters will be tracking this storm and impacts through the weekend and into back-to-work Monday.