National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Arizona's Most Notable Storms of the 20th Century


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 around Yuma is estimated to have reached 200,000 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. Inflation adjusted damage was in the millions of dollars.


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 fell in the desert just west of Tucson near the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Flood waters inundated 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 forced a release of water into the Salt River. All roads across the Salt River in metro Phoenix were washed out and all bridges at least partially damaged. Monthly precipitation exceeded 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 paralyzed northern Arizona and brought snow to much of the state. In reality, it was two storms with the second following closely on the heels of the first. During these nine days, 86.0 inches of snow fell at Flagstaff. At Winslow, where average annual snowfall is 11.2 inches, 39.6 inches of snow was reported. On December 14, a state record 38.0 inches fell in 24 hours at the Heber Ranger Station. Snowfall totals over the Rim country included 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 was extremely hard hit as two to three feet of snow fell across the reservation. Window Rock measured 33.5 inches. People on the reservation were 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 died of exposure.

Southern Arizona did not escape the measurable snow as even the lowest deserts saw accumulation. 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 brought severe flooding to Arizona and became the deadliest storm in Arizona history. There were 23 deaths in central Arizona including 14 from flash flooding on Tonto Creek in the vicinity of Kohl's Ranch.Total rainfall at Workman Creek (about 30 miles north of Globe in the Sierra Ancha mountains) was 11.92 inches, with 11.40 inches falling in 24 hours. Other rainfall amounts included 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 dropped to 40 degrees 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 be a huge dust devil reaching into the clouds before the tornado struck. An estimated 100 homes were damaged with most of the damage 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 occurred in metro Phoenix. Three to five inches of rain fell over much of the north half of the Phoenix metro area. Flood waters inundated hundreds of homes in Phoenix and Scottsdale. This is particularly notable because normal June rainfall in Phoenix is only 0.13 inches.


1972 Hurricane Joanne

October 4 through 7 1972: The remains of Hurricane Joanne brought heavy rain and flooding to much of the state. It was the first documented time that a tropical storm reached Arizona with its cyclonic circulation intact. Heavy rains fell 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 moved across Baja and into southern California near El Centro. With its circulation still intact, tropical storm force winds produced considerable damage in Yuma. Sustained winds exceeded 50 mph, and gusts as high as 76 mph were reported in Yuma. One man was killed as a 75 foot palm tree crashed onto his mobile home. Severe flooding also occurred in Mohave county. Residual moisture brought more severe thunderstorms to the state on September 24 and 25. The Tucson area was particularly hard hit with flash flooding and golf ball sized hail. Hail covered the ground to a depth of 5 inches on Mount Lemmon.


1977 Hurricane Heather

October 4 through 7 1977: the remains of Hurricane Heather produced heavy rain and major flooding over extreme southern Arizona. 8.30 inches of rain fell 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 caused some of the costliest and widespread flooding in Arizona history. Ten people died and thousands were left homeless. Ten Arizona counties were declared federal disaster areas. Inflation adjusted damage was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.


1980 Severe Flooding in Central Arizona

February 13 through 22 1980: Record discharges (which were later broken in 1993) were 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 was almost cut in half as only two bridges remained open over the Salt River. It took 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 was 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 produced 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 remnants including those from Hurricane Octave caused heavy rain over Arizona during a 10 day period. Southeast Arizona, as well as Yavapai and Mohave counties were particularly hard hit. Severe flooding occurred in Tucson, Clifton, and Safford. Fourteen deaths and 975 injuries were attributed to the flooding. At least 10,000 Arizonans were left temporarily homeless and inflation adjusted damage was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.


1990 All time Record High in Phoenix

June 26 1990: The temperature at Phoenix climbed to an all time record 122 degrees. Sky Harbor Airport was forced to shut down for several hours.


1993 Severe Winter Floods

January-March 1993:The winter floods during the first three months of 1993 caused extensive damage to property and crops. Record flows were established on at least 17 streams in Arizona including the Salt and Verde Rivers, and Oak Creek. The flooding in Arizona was extensively covered by the national media, only to be overshadowed by the Mississippi river flooding later in the summer. 


1994 Record High Temperature

June 29 1994: The temperature at Lake Havasu City climbed to 128 degrees, 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, hit 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 was recorded at the Deer Valley Airport. A few locations went without power for several days.


1997 Antelope Canyon Flash Flood

August 12 1997: A distant thunderstorm produced a flash flood in a slot canyon near Lake Powell. Eleven hikers were swept to their deaths. Since the hikers were tourists from Europe, the story made international news. A camera recovered after the event revealed 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 moved up the Colorado river. The center of the storm passed directly over Yuma where winds gust reached as high as 54 mph. Significant flooding occurred across western Arizona. 11.97 inches of rain fell 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 fell at the Yuma Airport. The average annual rainfall in Yuma is only 3.17 inches.