Arizona tends to conjure images of sand, heat, sun, and desert. After all, for the vast majority of the state, these are the defining features! As one of the most arid and sandy states in the US, Arizona’s hot and dusty reputation has been earned for good reason. Still, despite its characterization as just a desert, there is a lot more to Arizona. Today, we are going to discover a place where it actually snows in Arizona. We’ll also discuss the biggest blizzard the state has ever seen. Let’s get started!
Does it Snow in Arizona?
As crazy as it sounds, Arizona gets a lot of snow. To be clear, the vast majority of the state doesn’t receive any snow. However, a few cities and towns are known for their powdery drifts.
Snow in Arizona is a rare occurrence, especially in the Phoenix metropolitan area. In fact, Phoenix hasn’t had measurable snow since December 22, 1990. Additionally, the record for snow accumulation in the city is just one inch, which fell on January 22, 1937. However, some cities in the Phoenix area, such as Cave Creek, are at slightly higher elevations. These cities may occasionally get a dusting of snow.
Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city, is also not known for its snowfall. While it’s not unheard of for Tucson to get snow, the last measurable amount (0.01 inch) was back in 2011. The record for accumulation in the city is 6.8 inches, which fell on December 8, 1971.
Other cities in Arizona that frequently get snow include Williams, as well as Grand Canyon Village (South Rim), Payson, Prescott, Chiricahua National Monument, and Bisbee. These cities are located at higher elevations and are more prone to significant snowfall during the winter months.
The Year with the Most Snow in Arizona
Classifying a weather event in Arizona as a “blizzard” can be a bit misleading. While it’s true that some places in the state experience snow and freezing temperatures, the state as a whole is rarely subject to these conditions. Still, there have been some extremely snowy events in Arizona that are worth noting. One of these was truly a blizzard!
In the days before Christmas of 1967, Arizona’s high country was blanketed in a thick layer of snow. The dusting created a beautiful, glistening landscape just in time for the holiday. However, the snowfall didn’t stop at just a few inches — it continued for eight straight days, leaving behind a trail of record-breaking accumulation.
According to the National Weather Service, the cause of this historic snowfall was an “omega block.” This extremely strong high-pressure system stayed in one spot and prevented other weather patterns from moving through. As a result, the heavy snowfall remained in place, rather than moving on to other parts of the state.
The amount of snow that fell during this storm varied by location. In Greer, Arizona, 99 inches (8.25 feet) of snow was recorded, while Mount Lemmon received 84 inches (7 feet). Payson reported 77 inches (almost 6.5 feet). The greatest amount of snow officially recorded was in Hawley Lake, which measured at 91 inches (about 7.5 feet) by the National Weather Service two days after the storm ended. However, it is possible that many other areas in Arizona received even more snow. Some reports suggest that Hawley Lake received a total of 102 inches for the duration of the storm.
On Thursday, February 21st, 2019, the record for the snowiest day in Flagstaff was officially broken. This city, which lies about two hours north of Phoenix, received an impressive 27.5 inches of snow! This storm will go down in history as one of the biggest and most memorable in Arizona’s history.
Photos of the once-in-a-lifetime event can be seen on the Northern Arizona Archive site here.
The City with the Most Snow in Arizona
Flagstaff is easily the snowiest big city in the state of Arizona. According to National Weather Service statistics, Flagstaff averages 101.7 inches of snow per year. It is truly a winter wonderland for those who enjoy skiing, camping, and other winter sports. The city’s snowiest winter on record was 1972-73, when it received a whopping 210 inches of snow!
Located near the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau and within the San Francisco volcanic field, Flagstaff sits at an elevation of about 7,000 feet. It is home to the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the continental United States. The city is located next to Mount Elden. Additionally, it is just south of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in the state of Arizona.
While most of Arizona’s big cities are located at lower elevations where snow is rare, Flagstaff stands out as a true snowy destination. Its high elevation and proximity to the mountains make it a popular place for winter sports enthusiasts, and its annual snowfall is significantly higher than any other metropolitan area in the state.
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