KINGMAN - A white Christmas may not be out of the picture for Mohave County this year.
Parts of the county were covered with a light blanket of snow Monday morning as a cold front brought freezing temperatures that are expected to stay throughout this week.
The National Weather Service reported three to four inches of snow in the Hualapai Mountains and Colorado City, and about an inch fell in upper elevations of Kingman, around Stockton Hill Road and Cactus Wren Road.
Snow levels were lowered from around 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, with some of it touching down in the Cerbat Mountains, Music Mountains and Bull Mountain.
Temperatures are expected to be about 10 degrees below normal both day and night, with overnight lows dipping into the high teens, said Chris Stachelski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.
The weather service reported icy and snow-packed roads in some parts of Mohave County, including Interstate 40 east of Kingman around Diamond M Ranch. That area got 4½ inches of snow Monday morning, Stachelski said.
"We're in a pretty chilly weather pattern for this time of year," he said. "There's been a big dip in the jet stream in the west and as this storm moves through it, that allows colder air to come south into Arizona."
Motorists should be prepared for strong crosswinds with gusts up to 45 mph and patches of blowing dust on area roads. Minor wind damage has been reported from loose objects blowing around and snapped tree branches.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a strong El Nino for this winter, but this particular storm isn't part of that, Stachelski said. This is coming out of the Gulf of Alaska.
"A real El Nino would be from the south through Los Angeles," the weather expert said. "El Nino tends to be cool, but not cold like this. You're talking heavier rain. It's still early here."
The worst of winter is still ahead, and with that in mind, the Arizona Department of Transportation offering these driving tips:
Slow down, be patient and drive safely. Plan for extra travel time.
Be aware that ice forms on bridges first and is hard to see.
When driving behind a snowplow, stay back at least four car lengths. Never pass a snowplow that's clearing the road.
Brake slowly to avoid panic braking or jerking the steering wheel.
Increase the distance between you and traffic ahead.
Carry tire chains or use snow tires when traveling to higher elevations.
Cold strikes across Arizona
A storm that dumped snow on northern Arizona left traffic crawling along powder-packed highways and canceled schools Monday, with blistering cold weather expected to follow in its wake.
A small community west of Flagstaff had the lowest recorded temperature in the Lower 48 states at sunrise Sunday at zero degrees, said David Vonderheide of the National Weather Service. Temperatures were warmer Monday in Bellemont but were expected to dip to between minus-8 and minus-10 degrees Wednesday, he said.
The region hasn't seen temperatures at or below zero in nearly a year, forecasters said.
"People wanting to get out to work that morning, it's going to be frigid," he said.
The morning commute Monday was slow as the first band of snow showers neared its end. A second was expected as people go home for the evening. Flagstaff and Williams closed their schools.
Drivers headed north on Interstate 17 about 40 miles south of Flagstaff had been at a standstill because of the snow. Traffic resumed later, but the Arizona Department of Transportation urged people to stay off the highway if possible. State Route 89A through Oak Creek Canyon was closed in the morning.
Several inches of snow was expected in and around Flagstaff, north of the Grand Canyon and Prescott by the end of Monday. Forecasters said wind gusts of up to 40 mph will send the snow swirling and further complicate travel.
Meanwhile, rain fell in central and southern Arizona and freezing temperatures were expected overnight.
Tuesday's forecast calls for a slight chance of showers in northern Arizona ahead of the extreme cold.
Bellemont's low temperatures are due to its location. The community sits in a flat area surrounded by low hills where cold air struggles to escape south and instead "fills up sort of like a bathtub," Vonderheide said. At 7,100 feet, it's slightly higher in elevation than Flagstaff.
"There are mornings every winter where Bellemont is the coldest in the Lower 48," he said.
Despite that notoriety, it doesn't hold the record for the lowest temperature ever in Arizona. That designation goes to a place called Hawley Lake in the White Mountains at minus-40 degrees on Jan. 7, 1971.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.