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.
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.
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.
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.
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.