With plunging temperatures and lingering cloud cover, Valley residents caught a rare glimpse of what many thought were brief periods of snow flurries Thursday.

Sightings were reported in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, Cave Creek, Carefree, Peoria, Glendale and Anthem, Apache Junction, Mesa and parts of Phoenix.

However, National Weather Service officials said that what people actually saw was a phenomenon called graupel -- soft hail that freezes higher in the atmosphere and as it comes down, warms and melts a little, much like a snowflake.

Meteorologist Charlotte Dewey said it looks like snow, but technically it's not snow.

"What people are seeing is graupel," she said. "They kind of look like like Dippin' Dots."

Initially, the Weather Service said they were receiving reports of graupel, hail and snow.

Several residents separately confirmed seeing falling flurries, including several in the Scottsdale area.

Tommy Leclere, manager of Carlsbad Tavern restaurant near Hayden and Osborn roads, said pea-sized snow flakes began falling from the sky around 12:30 p.m. It came down intermittently for about 15 minutes, with the flakes hitting the ground and melting.

Little kids ran out to look, and customers took out their cell phones to take pictures, he said.

"Even my kitchen staff went out to take pictures," Leclere said. "Good thing we weren't too busy."

Residents of Cave Creek said they saw snow come down around the same time. Town clerk Carrie Dyrek said it fell for about a minute or two.

"Then the sun peaked through, and it was gone," she said.

Other similar reports came from many parts of the Valley, with residents posting sightings on Facebook pages and many in comments on azcentral.com.

Temperatures were hovering in the 40s with windy conditions throughout the Valley most of today.

Dewey said the low in Phoenix tonight will be about 30 degrees with lower temperatures in the outer Valley, and a 10 percent chance of precipitation, with a greater chance in areas east of the Valley. A freeze warning is in effect, meaning residents should cover tender plants and take other precautions.

Dewey said residents still shouldn't have their hopes dashed about actual snow flurries.

"If the temperature gets low enough while there is a chance for precipitation, snow will likely fall in Valley," she said.