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Tucson area gets soaked with first day of widespread monsoon storms
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Tucson area gets soaked with first day of widespread monsoon storms

Thunderstorms in Southern Arizona expected through middle of next week

Tucson got its first major widespread dousing from this year’s monsoon Thursday, with more than 3 inches falling southwest of the city and finally snuffing out a wildfire that started in the Catalina Mountains more than a month ago.

The thunderstorms led to several swift-water rescues around town, as people stalled in washes and ponding water in streets. Several roads also closed across the area because of flooding.

Widespread thunderstorms are expected to continue in the area Friday through Saturday, said Ken Drozd, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tucson.

The moisture will stay in the Tucson area at least through the middle of next week, with scattered showers and thunderstorms that are more typical of monsoon, Drozd said.

He said the first major storm hit Tucson later than usual, as scattered thunderstorms are usually anticipated here around the Fourth of July.

A flash-flood watch was in place through Friday around the Catalina Mountains that could be affected by runoff from the Bighorn Fire, which thanks to Thursday’s storm was deemed 100% contained. The lightning-sparked fire that started near Pusch Ridge on June 5 burned 119,978 acres, the Coronado National Forest said in a news release Thursday.

Flash-flood warnings were also put into effect for areas that included the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley, Marana and Picture Rocks.

A flash flood hit the Cañada del Oro Wash near Edwin Road in July 2020, during the burning of the massive Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The flash flood carried burned debris and runoff from the fire. 

Drozd said people should be mindful of monsoon safety tips: Don’t try to drive across rapidly flowing water, heed road closure signs and stay out of washes, which can fill up quickly.

“It doesn’t have to be raining in your location to have water flowing in that wash where you’re at,” Drozd said.

Besides a storm on July 11 that brought more wind damage than rain and a few isolated showers, and one July 15 that caused blackened runoff from the Bighorn burn scar in the Cañada del Oro Wash, the Tucson area has been mostly dry and hot.

The official start of the monsoon is June 15, Thursday’s rain came 38 days into the season.

“We would get moisture trying to come up, but then it would kind of get pushed back to the south, and we would heat up again,” Drozd said Thursday about previous storm buildup.

“It was hot, sunny days, and it would try to come back, but it didn’t really get in until today, it really made a good push into here.”

The Tucson Estates area, south of Old Tucson Studios near West Ajo Highway, had the most rainfall as of Thursday afternoon. More than 3 inches of rain was recorded there.

From midtown Tucson to the northeast into the Catalinas, 1 to 2 inches of rain had fallen by about 2 p.m. Thursday, Drozd said.

Marana and Avra Valley also recorded 1 to 2 inches of rain by the afternoon.

Nearly all of metropolitan Tucson saw some rain Thursday, though the area southeast of Tucson had received less than a quarter-inch of rain, he said.

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Stephanie is a Tucson native and graduated from the University of Arizona in 2014. She worked for newspapers in Rapid City, South Dakota; Manhattan, Kansas; and Lake Havasu City before moving back to Tucson.

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