Does It Snow in Tucson Arizona? Your Guide to a White Tucson

Tucson has a reputation for being warm and sunny as it is a city located in the arid Sonoran Desert.

But does this city located in one of the hottest areas of the country ever receive snow?

In this article, we will talk about when this town becomes a winter wonderland and some of the best ways to go about exploring the area!

Does it snow in Tucson, Arizona?

Yes, it does occasionally snow in Tucson but it is not very common.

During the years that I lived just outside of Tucson, we would usually get a snow shower one to three times a year. Usually, the snow melts very quickly but on occasion it can hang around for a while.

The good news is that Tucson is surrounded by high elevation mountains which means that you can regularly find snow in these places every winter. But more on that below!

Related: Does It Snow in Hawaii? Where & When Can You See It?

Cactus with snow

Where can you expect snow?

While the downtown area of Tucson has an elevation of around 2,389 feet (728 meters), it is surrounded by mountains on every side.

Some of these mountains rise to over 9,000 feet such as those found in the Santa Catalina Mountains and in the Santa Rita Mountains.

During the winter, you can expect to see snow up on these mountains even weeks after a snow storm has blown through.

Santa Catalina Mountains with snow
Mt Lemmon summit covered in snow.

Sometimes a winter storm blows through and snow falls on the mid elevations surrounding Tucson.

I’ve seen several times where the snow stops at about 4,000 to 5,000 feet. This is not going up to actually fall on the city of Tucson or on the neighboring cities like Vail, but it does provide a beautiful snowy backdrop on the foothills and lower mountains.

Finally, it is sometimes possible to get snow in the city of Tucson proper.

According to the National Weather Service, the average snowfall in Tucson is less than 0.5 inches per year. Often the snow is going to consist of small flurries or trace amounts of snow that may not even be measurable.

But that doesn’t mean that big snow storms can’t come through.

In 1967, 6.8 inches of snowfall came down on December 8th/9th according to measurements at the Tucson International Airport. That’s a lot of snow for Tucson!

More recently, on February 22, 2019, the Tucson International Airport recorded 1.3 inches of snow, which was one of the last major snow events for the city.

Tucson backyard with snow
Backyard near Tucson with snow.

What happens when it snows in Tucson?

One of the challenges of exploring Tucson’s surrounding mountains and parks whenever it snows is that you may have to deal with road closures to areas that receive substantial snowfall.

The most popular place people like to head to when it snows is Mount Lemmon, which actually has a ski resort. They have quite a few cabins, Airbnb’s, and a little town up there called Summerhaven, which is a fun place to stay for a night or two.

However, the road up to Mount Lemmon is often closed during and after a snowstorm and only open to select individuals such as those who live up on the mountain. This could last several days making winter tourism up on the mountain a challenge or even impossible at times.

Another area that builds up with snow is the Wrightson Wilderness/Madera Canyon area but again road closures can make it difficult to access this area coming off of a fresh snow fall. Traffic can also be an issue to these spots shortly after the snow blows through.

Santa Rita mountains with snow
Wrightson Wilderness/Madera Canyon with snow.

So the more practical places to visit when it snows would be the lower elevations like going to Saguaro National Park. But even then, if there is a good amount of snow they could close off the roads until it melts.

Saguaro national park with snow

Sabino Canyon is probably an easier place to get to when it’s snowing on the lower elevations because you should be able to walk into the park and to get to trails easier than you would be able to at Saguaro National Park.

Seeing saguaro cactuses covered in snow is such a unique site and one of the coolest things to see you with your own eyes – I highly recommend it!

In the days and weeks following a snowstorm, it’s one of the best times to explore the Tucson area.

The mountains and canyons surrounding the city are full of running creeks and waterfalls that come alive whenever the snow begins to melt. In fact, sometimes water levels can be raging during this time which can be both a fascinating and dangerous time to visit.

The good thing is that unlike in the late summer when monsoon season happens, you don’t have to worry about flash floods as much. That’s because the spring runoff is more consistent versus the monsoon rains which can cause an unexpected downpour in a hurry.

Another great thing about this desert area is that if it receive a lot of snow, the desert blooms go into full effect!

creek flowing

Final word

It does occasionally snow in Tucson but it is usually a very small amount. However, every year the mountains surrounding Tucson receive a fair amount of snow. It can be a little difficult to explore these places when it snows because of road closures but if you can wait a while for the roads to open up, you’ll have your own winter wonderland in the desert to enjoy.

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