A history lesson on Metro Tucson tornadoes

Tornadoes? In Tucson? It’s happened more times than you think.

Based on reliable records dating back to 1950, 20 tornadoes have touched down within a 30 mile radius of Tucson International Airport. Below is a map displaying where these tornadoes occurred.

The earliest twister to touch down in Metro Tucson was on March 3rd, 1954 near Sahuarita. According to the National Weather Service storm description from that day, a well-developed vortex appeared at the base of dark clouds, with funnel reaching ground about 11:20 AM.

Among Tucson’s most noteworthy tornadoes:

Tornado on August 27th, 1964. Courtesy: University of Arizona Special Collections Library

– August 27th, 1964: Tucson’s deadliest tornado, touching down near San Xavier Mission. It was also the state’s first tornado to cause death. A mother and her child were killed, while 8 others were injured. The tornado was later classified as a F2 on the old Fujita scale, with winds estimated up to 112 MPH.

– September 1st, 1971: A weak tornado is observed to have touched down in the Rincon Mountains. Yes, tornadoes can happen in the mountains too.

– July 28th, 1994: Tucson’s second recorded F2 twister. This one struck the northeast corner of Oldfather & Massingale. The tornado traveled in a west-northwest direction and its width varied from about a yard to 50 yards.

– August 29th, 2015: Tucson’s most recent tornado recorded. A faint and likely weak landspout tornado spun up from a dust devil before attaching to the cloud base near Interstate 10 and Houghton.

The most tornadoes Tucson’s recorded in one day is 2, happening on June 23rd, 1974 and July 17th, 1984. Coincidentally, one of the two tornadoes on June 23rd, 1974 struck not far from the deadly 1964 twister. During the 1974 event, one person was killed and another 40 were injured.

Of the 20 tornado touchdowns, over half have occurred during the months of July and August. This is not surprising, considering those months are the climax of the Monsoon. 16 of the 20 tornadoes recorded have occurred during the defined Monsoon season (June 15th – September 30th).

Oddly enough, March (2) has featured more tornadoes than September (1) in Metro Tucson. October and December have also seen the same amount of tornadoes as September.

When it comes to strength, it’s not a big surprise that tornadoes in the Old Pueblo are on the lower end of the Enhanced Fujita scale. Nearly half of the 20 twisters were ranked EF1, meaning winds are estimated at 86-110 MPH.

This complete history of Metro Tucson tornadoes wouldn’t be possible without the help of Meteorologist Jordan Pegram at National Weather Service Tucson. Give her a follow on Twitter here.

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