SAFFORD – The morning after a hail storm of biblical proportions slammed the Safford area, residents went about assessing the damage and cleaning up the debris.
While the Arizona Meteorological Network’s Agriculture Station east of Safford measured 2.05 inches Saturday night and another .20 inches Sunday morning, area residents of Safford reported much higher rainfall totals in the 3- to 4-inch range. Additionally, the windswept hail clumped together ice drifts of nearly two feet in some areas and runoff piles in excess of three feet.
Safford emergency personnel, road crews and an Arizona Department of Transportation crew worked throughout the storm to minimize the damage and help clear roads. During the deluge, the streets in Safford flowed like rivers, bringing debris and mud along the way.
Over at the Safford City Annex, the wind and hail decimated the city’s roses and left the lawn a mess with mud and ice.
The rain first started coming down around 9 p.m. as the storm hit the Graham County Fairgrounds.
David Griffith recorded the event on his cell phone and said numerous vendor tents were overturned in the wind and rain. Other footage shows fair goers seeking shelter by huddling together in the brick bathrooms, not willing to take a chance in the other tented buildings.
Around 11 p.m., the first round of hail struck the area, causing Phil McElroy’s metal topped residence to come alive with the sound of pummeling hail.
“I’ve never heard anything like that before in my life,” McElroy said.
After a brief respite, two more waves of hail came in before the storm was finished.
Damage reports came in from all over the city, including smashed skylights, hail-damaged vehicles, flooded residences and more. Multiple businesses, especially those on Main Street and U.S. Highway 191 had flood water damage, as well as several local schools.
By daylight, workers had cleared most streets by pushing the hail into large piles. Numerous retention areas were filled at or near capacity, and Glenn Meadows Park was fully submerged by runoff that came down from the hills and crossed 14th Avenue.
“That was the worst hail storm I have ever seen here,” David Griffith, of Safford, said.
Cotton fields in Thatcher and Safford suffered significant damage, and fields in Solomon were devastated.
On Sunday, residents and others began to clean up the mess. Dorothy Stinson Elementary School maintenance professional Frank Gutierrez told Gila Valley Central the school suffered water damage from leaky roofs in its cafeteria, media room and several classrooms.
Eva Llamas, a Safford resident on 8th Avenue, said the storm killed her five chickens. She also found a number of dead pigeons as she began to sweep of blown debris. She said she was only going to clean up a little that morning and finish the rest Monday because she didn’t want to miss church. Some wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only held sacrament services and excused the regular other two hours of services so its members could begin to clean up their homes and help their neighbors.
The forecast for the rest of Sunday shows a zero percent chance of precipitation in the Gila Valley and sunny skies for the following week.