Arizona Climate

When you think of the Arizona climate, what comes to mind? Probably desert! That's what we thought, way back, before moving here years ago. We realized shortly after marriage, that we wanted to move out West. Bill put some artwork on our fridge, to reflect the area surrounding where we might end up.

We'd not been that far out that way before! We'd only been as far West as Texas Hill Country. We didn't really understand about the Arizona climate. We learned much more about it after moving here.

Actually, the scene on our refrigerator is true. Only it's around the 4-corners part of the state, the very northeast. Not where we chose to live - in Tucson. But we'd like to let you in on the true climate reality of our adopted state of Arizona.

Are you planning a visit, a vacation, a move? A project?

We know Arizona, and can help you with what you need to know. What really is the Arizona climate like?

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Secrets of the Arizona Climate

Dry Climate - Low Humidity

"You know you’re an Arizona native when you take rain dances seriously"

~ Skip Boyer

Most of Arizona is categorized as arid or semi-arid. So what does that mean? Determined by the amount of precipitation, which means these areas get very little.

To figure out which is which, they calculate average annual totals of rain/snow:Although in the arid/semi-arid regions, snowfall is rare. But don't discount Snowfall in Arizona!

ARID ARIZONA'S CLIMATE DATA

Arid areas get less than 10 inches of rain average, over time. The city of Phoenix itself, is in this range, with a recent average of just over 7 inches per year. Factor in the immediate suburbs, it increases about an inch more.4

Poster showing the saguaro cactus which grows in arid areas of Arizona

Even more arid, the southwest part of the state is in this region, often gets less than 4 inches per year.2 For instance, Yuma gets about 3.3" a year. Bullhead City gets an average of 5.4" per year, and  Lake Havasu City averages 4.2" a year.4


SEMI-ARID ARIZONA'S CLIMATE DATA

These areas get between 10 and 20 inches over time average. Tucson, where we live, is in this range. Usually a bit over 10 inches. An exceptionally good Monsoon Season, can increase it somewhat higher.2,3

Much of Cochise & Santa Cruz Counties are also in this range.

cactus and other desert plants growing in an area with billowing clouds in the skyPalo Verde trees, Cholla Cactus varieties, saguaro cactus & sweet scented creosote are just some of the plants you'll find in semi-arid Arizona.
Here west of Tucson.

There's a common saying around here where we live, about the Arizona Desert.

About the comfort here: "It's a Dry Heat!" People often repeat that while sarcastically laughing, such as the quote here from the late comedienne Joan Rivers:

 "eight hundred degrees outside and everybody’s always saying, ‘But it’s a dry heat!’ So’s the inside of my microwave."

I mean, it's true to an extent. I noticed it when we first came west, way back.

That a 90 degree day with 15% humidity was more tolerable, than an eastern day of 80 degrees with 90% humidity.

But how does it work?

Dehyd-rific!

DESERT HUMIDITY - Absolute humidity is the best measurement for determining the comfort level in hot temperatures.

It's the sensible method for figuring out evaporative cooling, which is your own personized body-AC in the desert. How does evaporative cooling work?

Sometimes when you sweat on a hot desert day, you barely notice you're sweating. But yet it's cooling you down.

Air with low humidity just sucks that water vapor right off your skin. As the sweat evaporates with you barely aware, it's cooling you off to some degree.

As noted in the film, high humidity doesn't help that evaporation to cool you down.

The perception difference in feel is definitely there. But still... it is a Desert Arizona climate. And there are other factors to consider.


What is a Desert?

A desert is purely defined as an area with scarce quantities of precipitation. An area of consistent aridity.

When some type of moisture condensate does come, it does so intermittently. That leads to specifics in the flora and fauna of a desert area. The plants and animals have adapted to arid circumstances, and are unlike that of non-desert areas.

Thus, you can say that a desert is one extreme of the earth's environments.5,6

Many deserts, but not all, experience regular periods of exceptionally high temperatures.6 The southwestern U.S. has deserts in this situation.

Although some experience those temperature extremes in different ways, at different times, with different ranges.5 And considering all the deserts of the world, there are varied categories of deserts:

SUBTROPICAL - Between latitudes, North & South, from 20o to 30o. These areas are in zones where high pressure circulation often dominates to influence lack of rain and high temperatures.5 

Areas of Northern Africa, such as near Cairo and in the Sahara Desert, are examples of this type of desert. Small parts of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico also qualify for this desert area.


RAIN SHADOW - Those on the inward side of mountain ranges, separated by the range, away from large bodies of water. Moisture tracks in off the waters, then rains out over the mountains. Leaving little left over precipitation when the systems move into inward valleys.

An example is the Saline Valley in Death Valley, and areas of the western Great Basin in Nevada. These are on the eastern side of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains.


COASTAL - Normally adjacent to ocean's west coasts, with cold currents that cause rain-out over water, rolling only fog onto the land.

Thus extremely little rain. Chile's Atacamba Desert is a prime example.5,7,8 Probably the world's driest desert!


POLAR - In northern and southern artic areas, near the poles. Where it's not only very cold, but dry. Therefore very little snowfall, or rain.

An example is the Artic Tundra Desert, a little over 62,000 sq.mi. located north of 75oN latitude. Yearly getting less than 10 inches of snow (uncommonly, rain), which rarely melts.

Thus it builds year over year, and they're always cold!5,7,8,9


CONTINENTAL INTERIOR - Well within a continent, away from seas or oceans.5 These can be influenced by various weather local patterns, for whatever moisture comes their way.

An example is the Chihuahuan Desert, which has summertime monsoon weather systems offering precipitation.

Northern parts start in southeastern Arizona, and extend through much of New Mexico's lower elevations into western Texas. Then reaching south into Mexico's Northern Zacatecas.7

An RV is out in the Arizona desert with cliffs in viewWe've Camped in the Chihuahuan Desert
In SE Arizona at Gila Box
scrub pine on a desert hillsideChihuahuan Desert
North of Silver City, New Mexico

How to Manage the Arizona Climate

"In Arizona, shade trees are your best friends and occasionally the basis of small civil wars over parking."

~ Terri Guillemet

People living here learn how to manage the Arizona climate, to their advantage.

As Arizonans we have some recommendations for you. They more or less apply to some of the adjoining states with deserts, as well.

So if you're planning a trip to Arizona (Well worth it! Highly recommended!), we have some tips for you when traveling to Arizona - Climate Wise!

  • CHOOSE THE BEST TIME OF YEAR FOR YOU - Can you really, really, really NOT take any kind of heat? Like you feel faint when the temperature gets above 84oF! 
  1. Then only travel to Arizona's climate style in the winter
  2. You'll love it: daytime temps in 60s/70s. Usually 30s/40s/50s overnight. Mostly sunny. 
  3. But occasionally a winter snow storm arrives into the mountains, or atop the Mountain Islands! 
a roadway with scattered homes on the side with saguaro cactus and desert trees in their yards. Snow capped mountains in the background.Tucson Arizona, with a View of the Catalina Snows After a Winter Storm
  1. Another excellent time is autumn. Temps are moderating, 80s, still some low 90s, absolutely gorgeous evenings. 
  2. What We Don't Recommend: Springtime. People often may think that's a good time, because it's a nice time of year in many places. But we don't care for it & try to get out of here that time of year! 
  3. Why is Spring not Recommended? Weather systems blow through off the Pacific heading east. But they're tracking through northern states: Northern Utah, Idaho, Montana, etc. 
  4. How it affects AZ: the system drags constant nasty, annoying wind to the South. Not nice breezes - but as I said, just annoying, whipping & yucky.

SUMMER IS YOUR ONLY TIMING? Manage your Arizona climate areas, things to do or times/places to go.

  • The Monsoon Season is a wonderful time to visit Arizona during. That season runs approximately from July-Sept. Personally my favorite time of year (I like the warmer weather!). 
  1. Yes, it's still warm, but it's moderated by cloud build-up beginning late morning to noon. Then starting about early afternoon & onward, in come nice cooling thunderstorms. 
  2. The temperature can drop 15oF within 1/2 hour! 
  3. During this time, the temps often stay under 100. Definitely not the summer's hottest months (June is!). 
  4. And you'll be treated to rainbows, light shows & colorful cloud/rain/sun displays. 
Sonoran desert vegetation with saguaro cactus during some cloudbursts above.A Monsoon Storm is Coming Through!

More Arizona Desert Climate
Management Tips

  • Elevation Matters - The higher you go, the cooler it will be. Phoenix/Yuma = low elevations, Tucson somewhat higher, Tombstone higher yet, Bisbee even higher! What's the highest of all? Flagstaff and anything in the White Mountains. 
  • Try an adventure, like camping lakeside on a Sky Island. Special places throughout southwestern desert areas, where you change your entire Arizona climate within an hour or so! 
  1. Like taking Mt. Lemmon Hwy. in Tucson into the Catalinas! Changing your elevation from about 2400' to over 9000' up. 
  2. Or drive up to the White Mountains, or Flagstaff. 
  3. So, in Arizona, if you don't like the temperature outside, change your climate by changing your elevation!
  • Avoid Outdoor Activities. If possible, make plans for indoors. 
  1. But, if you're outside some of the time, stay in the shade as much as possible. 
  2. Be sure to have water, wear sunscreen & sunglasses & likely a sun hat. The sun here is very strong (no matter the time of year!).
  • Make Plans for Late in the Day or the Evening - When possible, if your event timing is flexible. Temperatures normally start dropping soon as the sun lowers toward the horizon. Once setting, then temps drop even more. 
  1. It's been known to drop as much as 10-15 degrees at some point after sunset. 
  2. Very early morning is also another option, before the sun really heats up the air.
  • Plan Cooling-Off Activities - Like going to the lake, camping or picnicking in the mountains, swimming, having some fun with water sports. 
  1. Anything you like to do, but doing so up in the mountains should be A-OK! Such as hiking or fishing. Maybe have a Lazy River vacation?

We Love You Arizona

Hope we've helped with our suggestions. Locals have always found ways to manage their Arizona climate. We think you can, too. And make the best of a trip to this wonderful, extraordinary state. It has so much to offer!

In the empire of the desert, water is the king and shadow is the queen.

~ Mehmet Murat İldan


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