Snow at Christmas and Easter, landscape-altering floods, deadly tornadoes and a hurricane that flopped are among the intriguing, surprising stories from the Arizona Daily Star’s new release, “100 Years of Tucson Weather: The Events That Changed Our Landscape, Challenged Our Endurance and Broke Our Hearts.”
The stories come from the pages of the Arizona Daily Star — some verbatim, and others an amalgam of reporting from days and weeks as the news unfolded. Photos are from the archives of the Star and the Tucson Citizen.
Culling and editing the book was a years-long process.
Research began with the National Weather Service’s list of the top 10 weather stories of the 20th century, says editor Maria Parham.
“I didn’t use the ranking, and, in fact, didn’t agree with it in some instances,” says Parham. “The main reason (for not ranking), though, was that so many of the events involve tragic deaths. In my mind, there’s no ranking which of those was most important.”
Roberta Young, former Star administrative assistant, took the weather-service list and found the stories in the Star microfilm/microfiche archives.
“We sorted through them, I made basic edits of the copies, which were not the easiest to read, and she began entering them into our system,” says Parham, who retired from the Star in 2015 after 43 years in various editing positions, including Editorial Page editor, features editor and reader advocate.
“The bottom line: It was a tedious task, but we both quickly became enthralled with the remarkable events, the storytelling and evolving style of reporting and writing. And then we added major events since 2000,” she says.
Parham experienced some of the big weather stories.
“I came to Tucson in 1970, so I was here for the biggest snow in 1971, the white Christmas of 1987, the 1999 snow on Easter and the floods of 1983 and 1993. While my home near today’s Agua Caliente Park was not in the flooded area, my family was stranded on one side or the other of the overflowing Tanque Verde Wash both times,” says Parham.
A few of the book’s most memorable stories for Parham:
- The earliest story of the floods in December 1914 had its share of tragedy, but it’s also hard to resist a smile at the reporter’s over-the-top description: “The milk of human kindness flows riotously through the veins of Tucsonans.”
- The two most heart-wrenching stories are of the lost Boy Scouts on Mount Wrightson and of the night in 1945 when cars plunged into raging water after a bridge collapsed.
“Three Boy Scouts died in that early snowstorm and I had the honor of hiking to the spot the Boy Scouts were found with survivor Ralph Coltrin about a year ago,” says Parham.
Ten drowned that 1945 night when the bridge collapsed on Tucson’s south side, including a baby swept from his parents’ grips.
- Certainly, though, the events affecting the most Tucsonans were the floods of 1983 and 1993.
“The book offers a history of our area through its weather, reveals the human toll of many of the events and reinforces what should always be a healthy respect for Mother Nature,” says Parham.
“Laugh all you want at the ‘do not enter when flooded’ signs, but as the photos and stories illustrate, they’re no joke,” she says.