The Lonely Tornado

January 29, 2016
Two Tornadoes

Every state, even Hawaii, Alaska and desert Arizona can have tornadoes.


It was the last thing I expected to see while driving through the Arizona deserta tornado. YIKES!

A small part of me would like to be a storm chaser and zoom through the plains chasing the twisters. This is very different from minding your own business in a desert and finding the twister chasing you!

My husband and I were crossing Arizona after a business trip. Since it is monsoon season, it was a lot wetter than you would imagine.

Starting around June 15, the monsoon season begins in the Southwestern US. Seasonal winds begin to blow from the south or southeast. They bring thunderstorms and welcome rain.

In summer, the Southwest deserts have monsoon thunderstorms. NOAA

We were driving through a thunderstorm when my husband looked towards the darkest part of the sky and announced, “There’s a tornado!” He had been in the Navy and a couple of colorful terms followed.

Now I entered the debate. “We’re in a desert. You must be seeing virga.” Virga are sheets of rain that stretch down from clouds but don’t reach the ground. They are grey and can look a bit like tornadoes.

My husband is stubborn.  “It’s a tornado.” He continued to drive away from the interesting weather phenomenon.

It was definitely spinning. “Maybe it’s a dust devil. They’re common in the desert.” But no, the weather was too wet and the spinning twister was dropping from the cloud rather than rising up. Tornadoes do form in Arizona (they form in every state—even Alaska and Hawaii have had twisters) but desert twisters are rare.

Sometimes virga (rain that doesn’t reach the ground) can look like developing twisters. NOAA

The storm itself seemed puzzled. A spinning rope would drop from the thundercloud, debris would fly and then it would weaken, rise or even dissolve. At one time, there was one tornado on the ground and three others that looked like they were trying to form.

The whole event may have lasted only fifteen minutes, with my sensible husband driving away from the storm and the crazy weather lady studying the distant event with great interest.

It’s nice someone in our family has common sense. But while it lasted, it was fascinating to watch a small and very lost tornado thunder through Arizona.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.