does arizona get tornadoes

Does Arizona get tornadoes? Though it’s a rarity, Arizona does get tornadoes.

Tornadoes happen in most places throughout the United States, and Arizona isn’t exempted.

However, they are most common in the spring for states bordering the Gulf of Mexico (Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Alabama).

According to the National Weather Service records, Arizona saw an average of 247 tornadoes each year from 1950 to 2020. According to the NWS in Phoenix, Arizona also averages about four tornadoes a year, which sources its data from the Storm Prediction Center.

What Causes a Tornado

Tornadoes are formed when two air masses of different temperatures, pressure, and humidity, collide.

The warmer, usually more humid air rises into the colder area as it swirls and forms a vortex.

The vortex winds may increase to the point that they create a funnel and touch the ground, at which point we have a tornado.

The most violent tornadoes form in supercells—large thunderstorms with rotating winds.

One in every one thousand storms that begin as supercells produce tornadoes, and about one out of every five or six supercells have a tornado.

Conditions for Tornado Formation

formation of tornado

A tornado is a whirling, cyclone-shaped mass of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground.

Dark clouds and loud thunder often signal it. You may see a funnel cloud, which looks like a giant spinning doughnut, as it touches down.

A funnel suddenly appears, falling like a thunderhead from the skies. The funnel slams into the earth, unleashing a freight-train-like roar as it tears up everything in its path.

The answer to the question can Arizona have tornadoes is a resounding YES.

This is since most of the conditions required to form tornadoes can be witnessed in some Arizona counties.

Understanding Arizona Tornadoes

Arizona is fortunate that it doesn’t experience the destructive tornadoes that hit parts of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Ohio regularly.

But tornadoes still touch down in Arizona on a few occasions. However, they mostly don’t last long and are weak when they do.

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In Arizona, tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night.

However, they usually occur during the late afternoon—when the sun has warmed the ground and created unstable conditions in the atmosphere that promote thunderstorm formation.

Fact: Since 1950, the years with the most tornado sightings were 1972, 1992 and 2010, with 16, 14 and 12 recorded tornadoes, respectively.

Arizona Counties and Tornadoes

Arizona tornado

Since 1950, Maricopa County has seen 58 tornadoes — the most of any county in Arizona, according to the National Weather Service.

Coconino County has recorded 34 tornadoes, putting it in second place.

Greenlee County hasn’t recorded a tornado since 1950, making it the only county in Arizona that hasn’t had a tornado since that year.

Most tornadoes in Arizona are small and don’t cause damage or injuries.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the strongest tornado on record in Arizona occurred north of Flagstaff on May 20, 2019.

Fact: On September 27, 2014, another strong tornado ripped through the town of Prescott and damaged three homes. 

The twister uprooted several trees, with strong winds between 86 to 100 mph.

How Arizonans Can Prepare for Tornadoes

The fact that Arizona doesn’t experience strong tornadoes doesn’t mean they aren’t fatal, and they will never happen.

On August 27, 1964, two people were killed by a tornado near San Xavier del Bac Mission, the ruins of which are located near Tucson.

Therefore, it’s not enough to answer the question does Arizona get tornadoes in the affirmative, but also know what to do before, during, and after tornadoes.

What To Do Before Tornadoes Threaten in Arizona

before Arizona tornado

To be prepared for a tornado in Arizona, you need to plan ahead and pay attention to your surroundings. Some things you can do are:

1. Know the Signs

You probably have a smartphone. Any weather app on your phone will probably tell you when the government issues a watch or warning for tornadoes.

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Tornado Watch:

A tornado watch means the National Weather Service has issued a warning that conditions are right for tornados.

Remain alert for approaching storms. Stay tuned to radio or television to find out when warnings are issued.

Tornado Warning:

A tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been sighted or that one has been characterized by weather radar, and it is imminent. It usually implies you should take shelter right away.

2. Plan Ahead

Have a rehearsal so that you know where your emergency kit is and who will be taking charge in the event a tornado hits your home.

3. Pay Attention to the Weather

When there is a change in the weather, it might indicate a tornado is coming.

Pay attention to weather reports and your own instincts for when you need to take cover.

When a tornado approaches, nature does not disguise the future disaster with calming color hues.

A sign of an approaching tornado is a dark, greenish sky, a large cloud wall, and hail the size of grapefruit.

Note: Tornadoes produce a whooshing sound that can be likened to the sound of a train.

What To Do During a Tornado in Arizona

during Arizona tornado

1. Go Underground or Underneath

A well-built basement with no windows is best, but if there is no basement, a small room in the center of the house with as few windows as possible is a good alternative.

The tornado may pick up heavy objects near you and hurl them to the ground.

Get under a desk or table, protecting your head and neck with your arms. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.

2. Avoid Driving and Know When to Leave

Mobile homes are more susceptible to storm winds than permanent structures.

If you are in a mobile home during a tornado and tie-downs are not available, seek safer shelter (if possible).

If you are in a car during a tornado, get out and get inside or lie down in a low area.

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If you’re outside, lay with your hands over your head and neck to protect yourself from flying debris.

3. Get low and Stay Flat

If you’re stuck in a tall building, move to an interior room on the lowest floor.

Windows will still shatter, and glass will still fall, so stay away from windows.

If you’re at home and feel that it might not be safe, get out of the house and lie flat outside with your hands over your head and neck.

What To Do After a Tornado in Arizona

after Arizona tornado

Be Extremely Cautious

After a tornado, check the walls and roof of your house to make sure that they are still in place and that the walls are resting firmly on their foundation.

Wear sturdy work boots and gloves so you won’t cut yourself on broken glass or get shocked by downed power lines.

Keep Healthy and Prepare an Insurance Claim

If your home was damaged by the tornado that touched down in your area, be sure not to drink any tap water or prepare food with it until officials say it’s safe.

Check your house to see what items may have been destroyed and the cost of replacing them.

Note: Since tornadoes can happen anytime, it is best to have a tornado safety plan in place before the first tornado strike occurs.

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Final Thought

Tornadoes are a rarity in the state of Arizona, but they do happen. In this article, you’ve learned that the answer to the question- does Arizona get tornadoes is yes.

If a tornado strikes your area, always be proactive and alert.

For example, don’t just stand around when you find a person lying unconscious or injured after a tornado.

Call for help immediately and then carefully examine the victim’s body for any sign of injury.

If an object nearby may have caused the damage, move it away from the victim before trying to carry them to safety.

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