Waking Up to Snow in Tucson Arizona

The Population Swells in Winter

March 19, 2011

Like other America's other sunbelt states, Arizona is the destination for thousands of visitors from America's northern states and Canada every year during the winter months.

First and foremost are our snowbirds, people who, like the feathered variety of birds, migrate south each winter in search of warm weather. The more nomadic types drive their RVs (recreational vehicles), down with their car in tow and spend the winter living in their RVs. When spring comes they start up their RV and migrate north again.

Many other snowbirds maintain two homes, one in Arizona for the winter and one in the north for the summer.

Snow covered Mt. Lemon in the Santa Catalina Mountains above Tucson, Arizona
Snow covered Mt. Lemon in the Santa Catalina Mountains above Tucson, Arizona | Source

In addition to the snowbird population, Arizona is also a popular spot for sunny and warm winter vacations as well as for conventions and business meetings. After all, who wouldn't prefer to relax after a day of meetings a lectures with a swim in an outdoor pool or a few rounds on the golf course?

However, despite its popular image as winter refuge from snow and cold, not all of Arizona is warm in the winter.

In addition to deserts, Arizona also hosts a number of mountains as well as the high plateaus of Northern Arizona where the altitude is such that snow and cold are common in the winter.

It is the low desert communities of the southern part of the state - places like Tucson, Phoenix, Yuma, etc. - in which the winter weather is generally sunny and warm year round.

Arizona's Catalina Mountains Framed by ground level vegetation
Arizona's Catalina Mountains Framed by ground level vegetation | Source
Mt Lemon and Catalina mountains
Mt Lemon and Catalina mountains | Source
Cacti with Catalina Mountains in distance
Cacti with Catalina Mountains in distance | Source
Snow on Teddybear Cholla Cactus with Catalina Mountains as Background
Snow on Teddybear Cholla Cactus with Catalina Mountains as Background | Source

It Snows Occasionally in the Desert Areas of Southern Arizona

While snow is not common in cities like Tucson, we do get it occasionally.

Unlike colder climates, the intervals between snow storms in Tucson tend to be a little longer.

When we do see snow falling in Tucson we talk about how many years, rather than days of weeks, have passed since the last snow storm.

The amount of snow that falls during a big snowstorm in Tucson is also a little less than the amount which falls on northern cities and this results in our having to report the snowfall in terms of fractions of an inch rather than whole inches or feet.

The last big storm we had in 2007 brought the city to a near halt for a few hours by dropping a mere quarter inch on the land.

Winter Beauty

New fallen snow is always beautiful and makes for great pictures and snow in Tucson is no different.

The two biggest differences between winter and summer in Tucson are heat and humidity.

Summers tend to be very hot with night time temperatures hovering in the low eighty degrees Fahrenheit (about 26 Celsius) and daytime temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (around 38 Celsius).

The hot weather also brings moisture laden clouds from the nearby Gulf of California and Pacific Ocean which causes the humidity to rise.

While still not as high as other places, any increase in humidity combined with high temperatures tends to make people uncomfortable.

The hot summers last from about June through September. The rest of the year the air is dry, the temperatures mild and the sky usually cloud free.

The temperature does drop, with the daytime temperature generally varying between sixty and eighty degrees with lower temperatures in the evening.

There are occasional night time freezes where the temperature drops close to freezing. This generally occurs during January or February.

The winter months are also accompanied by some rainy days. These are generally steady but light showers lasting for a day or so.

Frequently while the city and other low lying areas receive rain the surrounding cloud covered mountains receive the precipitation in the form of snow.

Often, when the rain stops and the clouds lift, the mountains are covered with snow. This is beautiful but short lived. While high, the mountains surrounding Tucson do not tower above the tree line and are thus tree covered from top to bottom. When snow falls in these mountains it covers the top branches of the trees as well as the ground.

However, within a few hours after the snow storm passes, the wind tends to blow the snow off the branches while the warming rays of the sun begin to melt the snow on the branches causing it to become heavier and slide off the branches.

While the ground remains covered with snow, the branches are now not only free of snow but also hide the snow beneath them from viewing by onlookers at the base of the mountains.

Patch of snow along N. Shannon Rd. in Tucson
Patch of snow along N. Shannon Rd. in Tucson | Source
N. Shannon Rd with snow covered Tortolita Mountain Range to north of Tucson, AZ
N. Shannon Rd with snow covered Tortolita Mountain Range to north of Tucson, AZ | Source

Waking Up to Snow on a Sunday Morning

Getting up early one Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago I was surprised by the sight of a thin dusting of snow on the roof tops of the neighbor's homes.

Quickly dressing and grabbing my camera and cell phone I headed outside leaving my wife and sons still enjoying the luxury of sleeping in on Sunday.

The snow covering was light with most of it on cooler roof tops, car tops and some cacti along with occasional small patches on the ground. The mountains, however, were covered from top to bottom.

While there was very little snow, the touch of snow on the landscape was beautiful and made for great pictures.  While I naturally captured the best shots with my camera,

I also took a number of shots with my cell phone.  These cell phone photos were immediately forwarded to my sleeping wife and children so that when they awoke they would see what they missed.  I also included in my photo messages family and friends up north to let them know that we also get snow - we just don't have to shovel it!

This was the first snowfall since January of 2007 that was big enough to enable any amount of snow to accumulate on the ground in my area.

As you can see by the accompanying pictures the momentary beauty created by the snowfall. I say momentary because I started taking pictures a little after seven in the morning and by 8:30 it was all but gone in the city. The mountains remained white until later in the morning, but by noon snow on the mountains was no longer visible.

Tucson Mountains, to west of Tucson, partially obscured by low hanging clouds & ground fog
Tucson Mountains, to west of Tucson, partially obscured by low hanging clouds & ground fog | Source
Snow on roof of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in suburban Tucson, AZ
Snow on roof of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in suburban Tucson, AZ | Source
Snow covered prickly pear cactus leaf
Snow covered prickly pear cactus leaf | Source
Snow on Prickly Pear Cactus
Snow on Prickly Pear Cactus
Leaf of Prickly Pear Cactus completely covered with snow
Leaf of Prickly Pear Cactus completely covered with snow
Snow on Staghorn Cholla Cactus
Snow on Staghorn Cholla Cactus
Close up of snow melting on Staghorn Cholla Cactus
Close up of snow melting on Staghorn Cholla Cactus
Barrel Cactus with light coating of snow
Barrel Cactus with light coating of snow
Desert vegetation with Catalina Mountains in background
Desert vegetation with Catalina Mountains in background
Snow on roofs of homes and cars
Snow on roofs of homes and cars
Snow covered cars parked on street
Snow covered cars parked on street

My Dog, Chika, Was not Happy with the Snow

The little patch of snow was more than Chika was prepared to endure.  It was with great reluctance that she posed next to it and, as far as she was concerned,  this was hopefully both her first and last encounter with snow.
The little patch of snow was more than Chika was prepared to endure. It was with great reluctance that she posed next to it and, as far as she was concerned, this was hopefully both her first and last encounter with snow.
As you can see, Tucson winter mornings  are not that cold
As you can see, Tucson winter mornings are not that cold

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Comments 17 comments

Chuck profile image

Chuck 3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

WillStar - I remember that Christmas. My oldest son was 3 years old and we went back to Western New York state to celebrate Christmas with my parents. I promised my son a white Christmas. However, there was no snow when we arrived a few days before Christmas and Christmas morning dawned with a drizzling rain and temperature in the 50s. Then, when I opened the local newspaper, the headline stated that Tucson had snow on Christmas for the first time since the 1940s and there was a big picture of palm trees covered with snow, beneath the headline.

Thanks for sharing.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Hi Chuck,

We woke up to over three inches of snow on Christmas day in 1987. At that time, I had a home in Avra Valley, west of Tucson. It was a true, White Christmas!

http://azstarnet.com/news/local/tucson-awoke-to-wh...


Jonathan Grimes profile image

Jonathan Grimes 5 years ago from Devon

Great photos and odd to see such an environment with snow!


gis_r07 profile image

gis_r07 5 years ago from Boston, MA

Agreed. That was actually the photo that triggered me to ask the question.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 5 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

gis_r07 - there are a few that would look nice in watercolor but if I had to choose just one I guess it would be the one captioned "Snow on Teddybear Cholla Cactus with Catalina Mountains as Background"


chicklit 5 years ago

Hard to beleive that was only a couple months ago, I believe the high was just at 91 a few days ago! Now I have my camera ready for my first radioactive sunset....


juniorsbook 5 years ago

Very well written hub. Well done!


ocbill profile image

ocbill 5 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

I enjoyed the trip to Flagstaff in winter time( 17 degrees) but still nice. I was unaware Tucson gets snow. 1/4 of an inch of snow and drivers were puzzled. That's funny for those people who reside in the snow annually.


bobmnu profile image

bobmnu 5 years ago from Cumberland

I guess you had better tell Chika not to come to vist the Midwest. What you got would not even make the news if it came in July.

Great Hub and the pictures are outstanding.


Jamie Brock profile image

Jamie Brock 5 years ago from Texas

Beautiful pics! Thank you for sharing..I just assumed you guys never got snow there. I remember the one time I came to Arizona for a few days.. I couldn't get over how clear and beautiful the night sky was! It really was like a different world there.. to me anyway.


Jeremey profile image

Jeremey 5 years ago from Arizona

Nice story with some good pictures to add the finishing touches, I don't believe we recieved any of that snow up here in Tempe AZ. I am originally from Buffalo so I found great appreciation for the snow story here, I miss it, surorisingly enough.


CARIBQUEEN profile image

CARIBQUEEN 5 years ago

Chuck: You make Arizona sound so interesting and inviting. The pictures look so beautiful especially the cacti. The close up of the pink colored cactus is a beauty. Chika does not look too disturbed however, maybe she was just a little out of her element.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Another great one to be bookmarked in to my 'Armchair travelling' slot.

Very well presented and the pictures are great !!

I push all the buttons here.

Take care

Eiddwen.


gis_r07 profile image

gis_r07 5 years ago from Boston, MA

Love the photos Chuck. Which one will you like to see in watercolor?:)


Ms Dee profile image

Ms Dee 5 years ago from Texas, USA

We lived near Tucson for a year in the early '90s and loved it. A light dusting of snow greeted us the morning we left. Love your photos and the memories they stir for me :)


Nan Mynatt profile image

Nan Mynatt 5 years ago from Illinois

You are blessed, we had almost 20" of snow. Snow is beautiful but I prefer warm weather. Novice snow, barely showing the cold weather, but not the real-real thing!


monabeepee profile image

monabeepee 5 years ago from Malaysia

interesting & nice pics.. i like.

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