December 7, 2015

The Great Blizzard and Flood of 1916

If there was any question of whether the winter of 1916 would be a wet one, the answer was received on New Year's Eve of 1915. "Storm is Greatest Town Ever Experienced," the headline read. (*1)

"Depth of 32 inches of snow on the plaza establishes record," it continued. (*1)

On the surrounding mountain passes, the snow was a whopping 6 feet deep. Flagstaff received 62 inches on this single day. (*2)

Two weeks later, another hefty blanket of snow would cover the area. (*3)  But on the 18th, a warm rain started falling all over the region and disaster was immanent.

That January, Prescott was socked in with more snow than any white man had previously seen. "Not a vehicle of any kind came into or left the city," the newspaper reported. (*4)

"Crown King and country contiguous thereto (were) completely shut out of the world. The telephone and telegraph wires (were) snapped in two; the track of the railroad (was) buried under five feet of snow at certain points; and travel by any method (was) impossible." (*1)

It took a long time for transportation to get to normal. "For the first time in ten days, partial communication was Copper Basin and Lynx Creek, when a team passed over each roadway, but under difficulties that were extremely laborious. "(A resident) of Mayer who had finished a freighting contract in the Hillside country, bucked five feet of snow on the summit of Copper Basin and after two days effort made the trip to Prescott of only nine miles." (*5)

One miner from the Hassayampa region reported that "for twelve days he was shut out of civilization by six feet of snow in any direction and during that time not a human beng was seen." (*6)

Nearly a week after the storm, residents from Crown King made it into town and told the newspaper "that a dozen old and unoccupied buildings in the camp collasped from the heavy weight of snow on the roofs...and the losses will run into several hundred dollars." (*7)

Even a week and a half after the storm the newspaper reported that "Crook canyon (and the) Senator country has not been connected up, as well as many other points struggling to get in line again with wagon communication." (*5)

Below freezing temperatures continued. In fact, it got cold enough, long enough, that Watson Lake froze over. "This interesting situation developed...(when) members of the local gun club...made the discovery of its surface being frozen over." (*8)

At this time, the dam creating Watson Lake was only eight months old and the lake was only about at half of its storage capacity.

The birth of Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona brought a region-wide celebration. It was originally intended to irrigate grain crops!

"They ventured to the middle of the lake where the water was over forty feet deep and the ice held their weight in every inch traversed." (*8)

"Several residents who came from the east brought their (ice) skates along and after announcement was made yesterday of this climatic condition being a fact, they began digging up and getting out their skating paraphernalia to get in action bright and early." (*8)

Come January 14th, another 8-10 inches of snow added to the white blanket. "With a continuation of (the snowfall), traffic to outside will again be entirely suspended. The outside country was beginning to open up again, when the unexpected took place." (*3)

It took weeks for a single automobile to arrive from Mayer. (*6)

Little did the people know that all this stored up snow would be gone in less than a week, when a long, steady, warm rain arrived from California three days later. (*9)


Volumes of water began pouring from the surrounding mountains into the valleys and creeks. "Flood waters of Miller and Butte creeks converged...and a lake of over 500 yards long and at places 300 feet wide was in evidence." (*10)

"Lee's Lake, at the foot of Granite Mountain, (had a) surface area over one-half mile square." (*11)

Watson Lake, an ice-skating rink days before, was now receiving torrential flood waters. The dam creating the lake had only been completed the previous April. At 4am on the 18th, "the depth was registered to within one foot of the top. At 9am, the waterway was taxed to its limit...and at 4pm, the structure of 82 feet high had a stream passing over its entire (300 foot) surface of over four feet deep." By 6pm, the water was six feet higher than the top of the new dam! (*12)

"The wasteway became conjested with debris and driftwood, requiring a force of five men to clear. So far as the stability of the (dam) is to be considered, there was not the slightest variation in its alignment, although the tremendous pressure taxed its ability to the utmost." (*12)

Citizens of Prescott, Arizona found out that some large predatory animals were still in the forest when deep snows forced them out of the mountains.

Later, it was estimated that the flood waters would have filled Watson Lake three times. (*13)

"To reach the west end of the (Watson Lake) dam it was necessary to make the trip from Prescott by first taking the route over the Gurley Street bridge and then through Miller Valley to the westside approach of the structure." (*12)

But through it all Watson Dam held fast. Those who doubted that the lake would ever reach capacity were proved wrong. Soon final decisions would be made to create a second storage lake named "Willow."

Eventually, the flood waters receded, repairs were made and the area got back to normal.

It would be another 60 years before Prescott again ever saw snowfall like the Great Blizzard of 1916.

Tourist Tips:

There are not many states where one can plan golf one day and snow-ski the next. Arizona is one of them.

CLICK HERE for information on Arizona Golf Vacations
CLICK HERE for information on the Arizona Snowbowl

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