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Arizona’s Most Notable Storms…

 

Over the years, there have been many significant storms that have affected Arizona.  Due to a very small population base, the details of storms affecting Arizona during the first half of the 20th century are sketchy at best, and the following list is largely limited to events that have occurred since 1960.

 

1916…Severe Winter Floods…

In early 1916 the flow on the Gila River area at Yuma is estimated to have reached 200000 cubic feet per second; a record which probably will never be broken as reservoirs on the Gila, Salt, and Verde rivers now greatly reduce the flow at Yuma...even during the most serious flooding.  The damage in today’s dollars exceeds 4.2 million, and while small by today’s standards, the population of the state.

 

1962…Tropical Storm Claudia…

September 25 through 27 1962...The remains of Tropical Storm Claudia causes severe flash flooding in and around Tucson.  Up to seven inches of rain falls in the desert just west of Tucson near the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.  Flood waters inundate Marana and Sells.

 

1964…San Xavier Tornado…

August 27…A tornado hit the San Xavier Mission Village west of Tucson.  Two deaths and 9 injuries were reported.  Four homes were destroyed.

 

1965…Heavy Winter Rain and Snow…

December 1965...heavy rainfall and melting snow forces a release of water into the Salt River.  All roads across the Salt River in metro Phoenix are washed out...and all bridges at least partially damaged. Monthly precipitation exceeds 12 inches at several mountain stations.

 

1967…Storm of the Century…86 inches of Snow at Flagstaff

December 12-20 1967...A huge snow storm paralyzes northern Arizona...and brings snow to much of the state.  In reality, it is two storms, with the second following closely on the heels of the first.  However, most perceive it to be one storm.  During these nine days...86.0 inches of snow falls at Flagstaff. At Winslow...where average annual snowfall is 11.2 inches...39.6 inches of snow is reported.  On December 14, a state record 38.0 inches falls in 24 hours at the Heber Ranger Station.  Snowfall totals over the rim country include 102.7 inches at Hawley Lake, 99 inches at Greer, 91.5 inches at the Heber Ranger Station, 87.3 inches at Crown King, 77.0 inches at Payson, 46.0 inches at Prescott, 35.2 inches at Sedona, and 31.0 inches at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  The Navajo nation is extremely hard hit...as two to three feet of snow falls across the reservation.  Window Rock measures 33.5 inches.  People on the reservation are instructed to use ashes from their stoves and fireplaces to write distress signals in the snow...that could be spotted from the air. Eight people die of exposure.

Southern Arizona does not escape...as measurable snow even falls on the lowest deserts.  Amounts include 84.0 inches on Mount Lemmon...27.5 inches at Miami...17.7 inches at Wilcox...11.0 inches at Safford...5.0 inches at Wickenburg...3.8 inches at Douglas...3.0 inches at Ajo...and 1.6 inches at Tucson.  And, perhaps the most surprising report of all, 2.5 inches at Gila Bend.

 

1970…The Labor Day Storm of 1970 -Tropical Storm Norma

September 4 and 5 1970...The Labor Day storm of 1970.  The remains of tropical storm Norma bring severe flooding to Arizona...and becomes the deadliest storm in Arizona history. There are 23 deaths in central Arizona...including 14 from flash flooding on Tonto Creek in the vicinity of Kohl’s Ranch. the  Total rainfall at Workman Creek...about 30 miles north of Globe in the Sierra Ancha mountains...is 11.92 inches...with 11.40 inches falling in 24 hours.  Other rainfall amounts include 9.09 at Upper Parker Creek...8.74 at Mount Lemmon...8.44 at Sunflower...8.08 at Kitt Peak...7.12 at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery...and 7.01 inches at Crown King.

 

1971…Record Low Temperature…

January 7 1971...The temperature at Hawley Lake drops to 40 below zero establishing a state record low.

 

1971…Tempe Tornado…

August 30…an F-1 tornado touched down south of Tempe and moved north into the city.  Eye witnesses reported what appeared to by a huge dust devil reaching into the clouds before the tornado struck.  An estimated 100 homes were damaged…with most of the damage being to roofs, windows, and block walls.  Very heavy rain and hail accompanied the tornado, and 41 minor injuries were reported due to flying glass.  Roof damage to the McClintock High School gymnasium allowed water to pour onto the gymnasium floor causing severe damage.

 

1972…Phoenix’s Worst Flash Flood…

June 22 1972...Severe flash flooding occurs in metro Phoenix.  Three to five inches of rain falls over much of the north half of the Phoenix metro area. Flood waters inundate hundreds of homes in Phoenix and Scottsdale.  This is particularly notable because normal June rainfall in Phoenix is only 0.13 of an inch.

 

1972…Hurricane Joanne…

October 4 through 7 1972...The remains of Hurricane Joanne brings heavy rain and flooding to much of the state.  It is the first “documented” time that a tropical storm reaches Arizona with its cyclonic circulation intact.  Heavy rains fall over much of the state with severe flooding in the Clifton...Duncan...and Safford areas. 

 

1976…Hurricane Kathleen…

On September 10 and 11 the remains of Hurricane Kathleen move across Baja and into southern California near El Centro. With its circulation still intact...tropical storm force winds produce considerable damage in Yuma.  Sustained winds exceed 50 mph, and gust as high as 76 mph in Yuma.  One man is killed as a 75 foot palm tree crashes onto his mobile home. Severe flooding occurs in Mohave county.  Residual moisture brings more severe thunderstorms to the state on September 24 and 25. The Tucson area is particularly hard hit with flash flooding and hail as large as golf balls. Hail covers the ground to a depth of 5 inches on Mount Lemmon.

 

1977…Hurricane Heather…

October 4 through 7 1977...the remains of Hurricane Heather produces heavy rain and major flooding over extreme southern Arizona.  8.30 inches of rain falls at Nogales...with as much as 14 inches in the surrounding mountains.

 

1978…Severe Winter Flooding…

December 1978.  Following on the heels of significant flooding in the spring of 1978...widespread heavy rainfall from December 16 through 20...causes some of the costliest and widespread flooding in Arizona history.  Ten people die and thousands are left homeless.  Ten Arizona counties are declared federal disaster areas. The combined damage total from the two floods in today’s dollars exceeds 450 million.

 

1980…Severe Flooding in Central Arizona

February 13 through 22 1980...Record discharges...which are later broken in 1993...are recorded in the Phoenix metro area on the Salt...Verde...Agua Fria...and Gila Rivers...as well as on Oak Creek in north central Arizona.  The Phoenix metro area is almost cut in half as only two bridges remain open over the Salt River. It takes hours for people to move between Phoenix and the East Valley using either the Mill Avenue or Central Avenue Bridges.  Even the interstate 10 bridge is closed for fear it has been damaged. Precipitation during this period at Crown King in the Bradshaw Mountains was 16.63 inches.

 

1983…Colorado River Floods…

Spring and summer 1983...Heavy rain and rapid snow melt in the Upper Colorado basin north of Arizona...produces severe flooding along the Colorado River from Bullhead City to Yuma.

 

1983…Hurricane Octave and Autumn Floods…

September 28 through October 7 1983...Tropical storm remains...including those from Hurricane Octave... cause heavy rain over Arizona during a 10 day period.  Southeast Arizona...and Yavapai and Mohave counties are particularly hard hit. Severe flooding occurs in Tucson...Clifton...and Safford. Fourteen deaths and 975 injuries are attributed to the flooding.  At least 10000 Arizonans are left temporarily homeless. Damage in today’s dollars is estimated at 370 million.

 

1990…All time Record High in Phoenix

June 26 1990...the temperature at Phoenix climbs to an all time record 122. Sky Harbor Airport is forced to shut down for several hours.

 

1993…Severe Winter Floods…

January...February...and March 1993...The winter floods during the first three months of 1993 cause extensive damage to property and crops.  Record flows are established on at least 17 streams in Arizona including the Salt and Verde Rivers...and Oak Creek.   The flooding in Arizona is extensively covered by the national media...only to be overshadowed by the Mississippi river flooding later in the summer.  The damage total for the event in today’s dollars exceeds 250 million.

 

1994…Record High Temperature…

June 29 1994...The temperature at Lake Havasu City climbs to 128, establishing a state record high.

 

1996…Phoenix Severe Thunderstorm $160 Million Damage, Record Wind Speed…

August 14 1996...A severe thunderstorm, and its accompanying downburst, hits the northwest portion of the Phoenix Metro area ripping off tile roofs, and causing $160 million in damage.  An Arizona record wind gust of 115 mph is recorded at the Deer Valley Airport.  A few locations go without power for several days.

 

1997…Antelope Canyon Flash Flood

August 12 1997...The Antelope Canyon flash flood.  A distant thunderstorm produces a flash flood in a slot canyon near Lake Powell.  Eleven hikers are swept to their deaths.  Since the hikers were tourists from Europe...the story makes international news.  A camera recovered after the event reveals a 50 to 80 foot wall of water sweeping through the canyon.

 

1997…Hurricane Nora

September 25 and 26 1997...the remains of hurricane Nora moves up the Colorado river.  The center of the storm passes directly over Yuma...where winds gust as high as 54 mph.  Significant flooding occurs across western Arizona. 11.97 inches of rain falls in 24 hours on top of Harquahala Mountain...breaking the 24 hour record of 11.40 inches set at Workman Creek in the 1970 Labor Day Storm.  3.59 inches of rain falls at the Yuma Airport.  The average “annual” rainfall in Yuma is 3.17 inches.

 


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