Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tucson Winter Weather

Saguaro National Park photo

When most people think of Arizona, the first thing that comes to mind is often heat. Yes, it does get hot here! Ice break on the Santa Cruz river usually happens the end of May. What's that you say? You didn't know we had ice on our rivers. You didn't even know we had water in our rivers. You're right, no ice, sometimes no water. Calling the first day to reach 100F the Ice Break is a Tucson tradition promoted by local media with contests for guessing the actual day each year. According to records, it has happened as early as April 19. Lordy, that's a long summer!

People often ask, "How can you stand the heat in summer?" My response: It's like winter in other places, you hunker down and stay warm and dry, we try to stay cool.

Those 100F temperatures can stay with us until September and we sometimes even get a few in October. The rainy season, or monsoon, is late July, August and September. Tucson gets 12 inches of rain per year on average and may get 6 of those inches during the monsoon. The storms are quite dramatic with amazing lightening shows and sometimes damaging winds and flash floods.

Tucson boasts 350 days of sunshine a year and low humidity
(you know, it's a DRY HEAT). Our most pleasant days, I think, are October and November and late February and March, into early April. These are the Chamber of Commerce days, blue skies, low humidity, temps in the 70s and beautiful sunsets. Ahhhh, this is what we came to Arizona for. But (you knew it was coming) we can have a few cold days and nights that sneak in there and we can get below freezing temperatures. We can even get snow! And December and January are the winter rainy season which is not as wet or dramatic as the summer monsoon. We natives always hope for good winter rains as that helps make an eye-popping spring wildflower show.

However, (always good when there's a however after a but) the cool and/or rainy never lasts long. When it snows, it's gone before afternoon. And we may have a week of what we think of as bad weather but the snowbirds from Minnesota will still be wearing shorts.

It's helpful to keep the latitude of southern Arizona in mind. Look at the
NOAA weather map. In grade school we all learned that closer you are to the equator, the hotter it is, right?
There are several places in the US closer to the equator, and not surprisingly they are also Snowbird habitat. In Texas, the Rio Grande Valley and Gulf of Mexico coastline will have warmer average temps through the winter. And of course, Florida will maintain 80F degree daytime temps throughout the winter save some cold snaps here and there. Tucson has cooler temperatures but less bugs, almost no humidity and a more diverse landscape. You can drive for 60 minutes from the center of Tucson up the Catalina Highway to Mt Lemmon and and pass through several climate zones. Mt Lemmon is one of the Sky Islands and there are other Sky Islands in southern Arizona. Visits for hiking or birding make great sidetrips.

So why does Phoenix, which is north of Tucson, usually have higher temperatures? Good question! Tucson has more elevation at 2400ft compared to Phoenix at 1100ft.

OK, that's the weather lesson.
Today's weather: as I look out my window I see blue skies and no clouds with an ever so slight breeze ruffling the trees. My thermometer reads 50F at 0730, which tells me it will most likely get into the mid-70s today. Beautiful! There's lots going on so get out and enjoy it. This is what you came to Arizona for.

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