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SPECIAL REPORT: Top weather events in the Desert Southwest

Our Chief Weather Forecaster Melissa Zaremba shares some of the biggest weather events we experienced over the last year

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY-TV) - The Desert Southwest is known for being sunny, hot, and dry the majority of the year, so it may seem like severe weather doesn’t occur too often here in the desert.  

But you may have forgotten some of the significant weather that has recently impacted our area. 

2023 had some memorable weather across the Desert Southwest. 

One of the biggest events happening just last year was tropical storm Hilary.  

Hilary was a Category 4 Hurricane that formed in the Pacific, which later made landfall as a tropical storm in Mexico. 

Leading to significant weather activity in our area. 

The National Weather Service office in Phoenix tells me how an event like this isn’t unusual but is still pretty rare. 

“It’s part of the hurricane season, but to get something up the coast you need a setup just right,” said Sean Benedict, lead meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Hilary brought inches of rain to areas in Imperial County with El Centro receiving a little over an inch. 

While a tenth of an inch was recorded in Yuma. 

“It’s not uncommon to get these tropical circulations that come up, they are just remnants of a hurricane or tropical storm and they have all this moisture so we get a lot of rain but with this event, it was still pretty strong,” said Benedict. 

Benedict said what was very uncommon was the strong winds. 

Tropical storm Hilary put the desert southwest under a high wind warning with peak gusts over 65 miles per hour.

And just when we thought the severe weather was over, weeks later, the Desert Southwest was hit by two major monsoon storms. 

On September 1, some cities in Imperial County received over half an inch of rain. 

But those in Niland suffered major flooding where they received 2.74" in just one day, leaving behind lots of damages and repairs to local businesses.  

Over in Yuma, a little over a hundredth of an inch of rain was recorded, but a big dust storm moved through bringing blowing dust which lowered visibility to one-fourth of a mile and peak gusts at 50 mph. 

The following day on September 2, heavy rain finally made its way to Yuma County. 

Over an inch and a half of rain was recorded, breaking a daily rain total record of 1.49” that was set back in 1967. 

With our few big rain events, some locals think this wet weather seems unusual. 

“It may not necessarily mean it’s very abnormal to see or like it really is much more rainier than normal or there’s a significant pattern shift and it's going to continue, it doesn't necessarily mean that,” said Benedict. 

According to the National Weather Service reports, Yuma's total rain accumulation for just 2023 was 2.71", which seems like a lot, but it wasn’t enough to make our yearly average as we were down by 0.57". El Centro also barely missed its yearly rain total average in 2023.

Benedict shares with me that rain fell on two days in 2023 where the rain totals were not counted and recorded as missing. 

He explained what that does to our yearly average.

“It might be closer to normal or even slightly above normal depending how much rain actually fell on those days that were not counted. It just comes down to data issues with the weather sensors, sometimes struggle with certain environments,” said Benedict. 

2023 certainly has been a beneficial year for rain as it brought even significant improvements to our short-term drought. 

At the beginning of January 2023, all of the Desert Southwest was experiencing moderate or abnormally dry conditions. 

Now both counties are not experiencing either of those conditions. 

And water levels were flowing in 2023. 

We also can’t forget about the two month flood warning for the scheduled water release from Painted Rock Dam. 

This was due to runoff from snowmelt from the abnormally wet winter, which brought water levels to approximately at 7 feet.  

Water traveled all the way to Yuma and closed multiple roads.  

Now for something that isn’t unusual is the desert heat. 

Just last summer Yuma and El Centro reached a peak temperature of 118 degrees, making it the hottest day of the year.   

It’s a great reminder to locals to always be ready for any type of weather condition. 

“Prepare for the worst and you are always ready. So even if you don’t expect it, you never know when it might hit, it’s always best to just be prepared,” said David Padilla, Public Information Office with the Yuma Fire Department (YFD). 

YFD encourages everyone to do their part in their homes throughout the year for events in the future. 

“Always have flashlights, always have food prepared, food stored, things like that to make sure in the event we have one, you are ready to go,” said Padilla. 

Overall 2023 was full of wet and eventful weather, and so far 2024 has been an active start too. 

This year I will continue to track more rain, winds, flooding, and heat here in the Desert Southwest. 

To stay on top of Melissa's weather updates and alerts follow our daily newscasts right here, check our website, or download our KYMA app.  

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Melissa Zaremba

Melissa Zaremba joined KYMA in November 2021 and is the Chief Weather Forecaster.

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