A winter snowstorm led to huge traffic jams in northern Arizona last night. Many drivers said they were stuck for hours.

WILLIAMS, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Drivers were stranded on Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff overnight after winter weather caused the closure of the highway.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), westbound Interstate 40 was shut down near Williams around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. That is when the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) said there were five collisions on Interstate 40 and ice on the roadway was a problem.

Travelers in the area took to Twitter to voice their concern after some of them spent the night on the freeway. One user tweeted at 6 a.m. and told ADOT she was on the freeway since 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Arizona's Family reached out to the Arizona Department of Transportation about the situation. "We're well aware of what people were going through," said ADOT Public Information Officer Laurie Merrill. "The best information we can say is to please have an emergency kit in your car. And of course, above all else, stay informed."

"We did what we always do which is to get the message out early, and it's going to be snowy," continued Merrill. "There could be closures, there could be extended lengths of time that motorists could be on the highways. And we inform them on various social media platforms. We have highway signs, we have geofence alerts, press releases. We did that for this storm. I think the reason why this storm might have been a little unusual might have been because of the rapid amount of snowfall, short amount of time, and a lot of accumulation."

Several drivers called the Arizona’s Family newsroom overnight to let us know their safety concerns. Precious, a traveler from Texas, said it was pitch black on Interstate 40 and she was running out of gas. A 79-year-old woman called and told our newsroom she was cold, had no food and DPS was driving by her, but not providing any updates or information.

While travelers say they appreciate all of the ways available to access information, they wish there was more information to access. "If you're really clearing the roads, post some pictures," said Scottsdale resident Carine Werner. "Just do something so that we have a clear picture. Because in our minds, it was just super vague."

ADOT responded to frustrated travelers throughout the night and promised every available resource was deployed.

"We have more than 400 plow drivers and 200 plows; they work around the clock," said Merrill. "They plow the snow, they de-ice afterwards. We did have situations where it was difficult for them to get through because there were so many cars on the shoulder. We urge motorists to not park on the shoulder, we also urge them to respect the plow, to stay four lengths back and never to pass a plow."

"We did have residual backups because when you have extended closures and a significant number of cars that are backed up," Merrill continued. "It takes a longer time for them to unwind, and for traffic to flow smoothly." 

Both directions of Interstate 40 reopened in the area on Sunday morning. Check latest traffic conditions here. 

 

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