No matter where you live, natural disasters might be a factor in your life, and this includes Arizona, of course. Known for beautiful vistas and an incredibly hot climate overall, Arizona is a harsh and rugged land but one that is nonetheless beloved by its residents and many visitors.
But despite this, you’ll still have to deal with intense and potentially deadly natural phenomena.
From lethally hot summers to blinding dust storms and monsoon rains that can lead to destructive flash flooding, Arizona is a study in extremes, concerning both terrain and weather.
Luckily, the overall natural disaster risk in Arizona is much lower than most other parts of the nation. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you what you need to know.
To outsiders, Arizona is typically thought of as a state that is a hot, dry, dusty desert. And it definitely is that, but that’s not all the state is or has in store.
Yes, many of the natural disasters you’ll face in Arizona do revolve around extreme heat, particularly dangerous and long-lasting heat waves, wildfires and dust storms.
These are a factor pretty much everywhere, but especially in the southern regions.
Beyond this, you’ll have to contend with monsoons that can generate intense thunderstorms complete with lots of lightning and tornadoes, accompanying flooding and mudslides and even earthquakes: no, Arizona isn’t known for earthquake activity, but it is close to the San Andreas fault and the state also contains many immense volcanic fields and hundreds upon hundreds of hopefully extinct volcanoes.
But as mentioned above, happily, your overall risk of a bad outcome due to natural disaster is lower in Arizona than most other states.
I’ll break down these specific natural disaster risks in the sections below.
The single deadliest natural disasters in Arizona are heat waves, as most of you probably predicted. Arizona is one of the hottest states in the US, and summers are especially brutal, especially in areas like Phoenix.
Each and every year, many hundreds of people become heat casualties, and over a hundred perish.
In the most recent intense heatwave, occurring just last year in 2022, saw nearly 500 people perish in Maricopa County alone. Pretty harrowing stuff, and this is not a good state for the weak in times of trouble.
And beyond the sheer heat which can easily kill you if you’re caught outside or without climate control, is the strain that it puts on the power grid.
Brownouts, even in a state as prepared as this one, are common and blackouts are not unheard of during peak demand times. You must be prepared for intense heat and a loss of power or other utilities if you want to make a go of it in Arizona.
2. Dust Storms
Arizona is one of the hottest places in the United States and it’s also one of the driest. Because the state is so dry, and because of its typical terrain and soil, dust is a constant companion.
When winds shift, downbursts occur or sustained gusts of wind lift tremendous quantities of dust into the air, all of it being pushed ahead of and dragged behind storm fronts and other weather systems.
This results in intense dust storms that can reduce visibility to basically zero in no time at all, greatly increasing the chances of an accident whether you’re on the road or on foot.
This fine particulate airborne dust will infiltrate intakes, air conditioners, and other machinery, causing malfunctions and potentially fires.
It can also cause you to cough and choke, meaning you must be prepared with a respirator and goggles if there’s any chance you could be caught outside.
Dust storms are a hazard all across the state, but especially common in the south and all regions where storm fronts typically gather strength.
When you hear the word monsoon, most people just think of “torrential rain” but that’s not really what a monsoon is. A monsoon is a pronounced, but seasonal, shift in wind directions that typically result in significant weather events.
These events usually manifest as intense thunderstorms that do, indeed, dump torrential rain all along their path.
A little bit of rain is certainly good for a state like Arizona, considering how dry I just said it is, but monsoons are more often than not highly destructive, and the storms they spawn create damaging winds, pronounced flash flooding, the aforementioned dust storms and constant lightning.
Monsoons are so dangerous in Arizona because they can quickly create severe weather conditions before you have a chance to react.
If you’re in any low-lying area or any other flood-prone area, the risks of being killed or injured in a resulting flash flood are very high. Just as bad, anyone that is safe from the flood will still have to contend with the significant danger of lightning strikes.
Monsoons cause severe weather all over Arizona, but they don’t do it year round: monsoon season is typically from the end of May through September, so that’s when you’ll need to be on guard against them.
Mudslides are a major risk in many parts of Arizona, especially during hard rains (or monsoon season) and very especially anywhere near slopes, hills and other high places when falling debris can gather speed and strength.
A mudslide does not sound so dangerous, at first: a sudden movement of soil, rock or artificial ground fill that travels downhill via gravity.
Usually displaced by water or mechanical destruction of surrounding soils, a mudslide is no laughing matter.
It can consist of dozens and dozens or even hundreds of tons of debris traveling downhill at over 100 miles an hour in a colossally destructive wave.
A veritable tsunami of dirt, water and rock! You don’t need me to tell you how deadly and destructive this can really be if it strikes people or property.
If you live in a flat area that is not near hills or mesas, you probably don’t have much to worry about, but the opposite is also true: if you live anywhere near or on slopes, hills or mountains, be prepared.
Be especially cautious during and after periods of intense rainfall or after an earthquake.
In a state that gets so little rainfall overall, flooding might sound like the least of your worries but you would be wrong.
In Arizona the aforementioned monsoons and also other sporadic intense rainfall events can lead to areal or flash flooding in short order.
This is an especially big problem for properties that have not maximized drainage or in municipalities that have poor or lackluster stormwater control.
The old adage says that anywhere that it can rain, it can flood, and that is definitely true for this state, but it is a far bigger issue in low-lying areas where flood waters can gather speed and power before they settle.
Sadly, Arizona has a climate that’s basically ideal for wildfires to start, and also to spread with speed: hot and dry is always a fire risk, and that describes Arizona to a tee.
Wildfires start for all kinds of reasons, including regular lightning strikes, but even the most incidental of human actions or accidents can likewise lead to incredibly destructive wildfires.
Just since the turn of the millennium, Arizona has declared a state of emergency more than 45 times for wildfire incidents, and several of them tallied well over 1 billion dollars in damages- each! Each and every year, usually a million acres or more of land are consumed by wildfires in Arizona.
It’s difficult to impress upon outsiders just how immense and dangerous these wildfires are, and all citizens in the state must be prepared to evacuate as quickly as possible.
A slight shift of wind is enough to send an immense wildfire racing towards a built-up, populated area. Ignore this advice at your own peril!
Arizona is not thought of as a leader in earthquakes in the same way as California and Nevada, but nonetheless significant earthquake events are a concern for the state.
They do occur commonly, but the vast majority are quite weak and cause little if any damage. However, significantly damaging earthquake events do take place at least once a decade on average.
Should be pointed out that the state is located very near the San Andreas Fault, and because of this the chances of a truly catastrophic earthquake cannot be ruled out.
Additionally, Arizona has many regional volcanic fields housing several hundred supposedly extinct volcanoes.
Suffice it to say this is an area with high tectonic activity, though the northern part of the state experiences most of it.
Even minor earthquakes can easily cause damage that will lead to widespread fires and the nature of the event will impede emergency responses to those fires. Keep this in mind when planning for your own earthquake response.
What are the Least Disaster-prone Places in Arizona?
The disasters that mentioned above can occur all over the state, so you need to be prepared for them no matter where you settle.
That being said, Graham County, Greenlee County and Santa Cruz County have statistically fewer negative outcomes in terms of deaths and property damage compared to other counties in Arizona, so you might want to take your chances in one of them if you are planning a move.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.