Southern Arizona | Investigating 4 You

The day Tucson turned into a “Winter Wonderland”

TUCSON – On December 8th, 1971, Tucson saw its largest snowfall on record. A whopping 6.8″ fell after midnight at Tucson International Airport. Major issues ensued.

Here’s a brief recap from NWS Tucson:

The heavy snow snarled traffic, closed the airport, downed power lines and damaged or destroyed 3000 trees, some of them 20 years old. Slush on the runway forced the closure of the Tucson International Airport and cancellation of flights between 6 AM and 11 AM. At the time, the airport did not own a snow plow.

500mb plot the morning of 12/8/71
500mb plot the morning of 12/8/71

What caused this rare desert snowstorm? The morning of December 8th, 1971 showed a very cold mid-level low pressure center in northwestern Arizona. This remarkable air mass can easily support low elevation snow.

Only question is whether the ongoing precipitation can sync up with the cold air for a long period of time. In my time in Tucson, a winter pattern like this usually sees a brief switch-over to snow. This event was one of the few that became a prolonged all-snow event.

Above are more photos from Tucson’s December 8th, 1971 snow event, courtesy of KVOA viewers.

Jeff Beamish

Jeff Beamish

Jeff Beamish is an award-winning meteorologist at KVOA. You can watch his weekday weather forecasts on Tucson Today & News 4 Tucson at Noon. He has also contributed his weather expertise to The Weather Channel, Washington Post, New York Times, AM 1030 KVOI and the Arizona Daily Star.
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