Natural Disasters in Arizona: What Are The Risks?

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Over 7 million people live in Arizona. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand. However, many Arizonians don’t realize how many different natural disasters can occur in the state or how the risk for some disasters is increasing.

Here we will go over what natural disasters occur in Arizona, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what can be done to prepare.

Is Arizona At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Arizona has a low risk of natural disasters compared to the rest of the country. There have been 71 disaster declarations in Arizona since 2000. Of these, 15 were Major Disaster Declarations. There were 29 disaster events affecting Arizona, which caused more than $1 billion in damages.

Since 2000 in Arizona, there have been:

  • 71 disaster declarations
  • 15 Major Disaster Declarations
  • 15 events that caused $1 billion or more in damages

Worst Natural Disasters in Arizona Since 2000

The worst natural disasters in Arizona in recent history were all droughts and wildfires. These disasters caused huge amounts of economic damage in the state and region. Many deaths are also attributed to these natural disasters.

  1. 2012 US Drought and Heat Wave: $38.7 billion and 123 deaths
  2. 2017 Western Wildfires: $21.4 billion and 54 deaths
  3. 2020 Western Wildfires: $18.4 billion and 46 deaths
  4. 2011 Southern Plains/SW Drought and Heat Wave: $15.9 billion and 95 deaths
  5. 2002 US Drought: $14.9 billion and no fatalities

*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.

What Natural Disasters Occur in Arizona?

1. Wildfires

Wildfires are the most common natural disaster in Arizona. Since 2000, there have been 50 disaster declarations due to fire. The state has also been hit by several $1 billion wildfire events.

The 2011 Wallow Fire was the largest wildfire on record in Arizona. It burned for over a month and consumed over 500,000 acres but luckily had no fatalities. The 2021 Telegraph Fire was also very destructive. It destroyed over 180,000 acres and took a month to contain.

Arizonians must be ready to evacuate from wildfires at a moment’s notice and take steps to protect their property.

For more, read:

fema wildfire risk map

2. Floods

Even though Arizona has an arid climate, with few natural bodies of water, the state is actually at a very high risk of floods. These floods mainly occur because of the monsoon thunderstorms in the state during summertime. 

During these storms, areas can see 2 to 4 times the rainfall they’d see in an entire year. When the heavy rains hit the dry Arizona soil, the soil is too hard to absorb the water. This then causes flash flooding, landslides, and debris flows. 

In July 2021, the National Weather Service issued over 130 flash flood warnings in Flagstaff, Arizona alone. Several people died during this year because of floods. The heavy rains also cause damage to roads and homes and power outages.

Also read: Flood Preparedness Steps

arizona flood events since 1996
Map shows Arizona flood events since 1996

3. Heat Waves

When it comes to fatalities, heat waves are the worst natural disasters in Arizona. They cause hundreds of deaths in the state each year. In Maricopa County alone, in the summer of 2022, 450 people likely died due to extreme heat. 

The heat can take a toll on the power grid. Air conditioning usage increases demand, and extreme temperatures can cause equipment failures. As a result, heat waves and power outages often co-occur in Arizona.

Also read: How to Prepare for Serious Heat Waves

4. Earthquakes

Arizona is located near the San Andreas Fault. Because of this, earthquakes occur very frequently in the state. However, most earthquakes are of low magnitude and don’t cause much damage. Larger magnitude earthquakes above M3.0 only occur approximately once every 10 years in the state’s northern region.

There is no way to predict if and when a big earthquake will hit and how much damage could occur. For example, earthquakes sometimes damage gas lines, which in turn can cause wildfires. They can also damage other utilities, such as water and power lines.

Read: How to Prepare for Earthquakes

5. Winter Storms and Freeze Events

Surprisingly, Arizona can succumb to winter storm natural disasters. They don’t occur often, but when they do, they catch the state by surprise. 

For example, the winter storm which hit Arizona in January 2010 brought heavy snowfall to higher elevations. Many roofs in these areas were not built to withstand snow and collapsed. Roads were closed, widespread power outages occurred, and food, water, and medicine shortages. In lower elevations, the winter storm brought floods.

This shows that Arizonians also need to be prepared for winter weather. 

Also Read:

6. Tornadoes

While they don’t occur often, Arizona can sometimes have tornadoes. Most of these are weak and don’t cause damage or death. However, severe tornadoes do occasionally happen in the state.

The 2010 tornado outbreak in Arizona was the state’s costliest weather disaster, causing $4.9 billion in damages. There were at least 11 separate tornadoes in this outbreak, which is a record for tornado outbreaks in the Western USA.

Tornadoes in Arizona are often accompanied by other severe weather, such as thunderstorms and flooding. For this reason, Arizonans must be prepared for disaster on multiple fronts.

Read: How to Build a Storm Shelter


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