Arizona is known for straight-line winds, red flag warnings, and dust devils that can be strong enough to create tornado-like destruction, but actual tornados? Indeed, there have been rare times when the quad-cities area fell victim to genuine twisters.
One of the earliest reports of a possible tornado occurred during the monsoon season of 1871, when one storm stood out as unique. Men “who have known no other home than the mining camp since 1849” declared that it had “never been their fortune to witness…a grander meteorological phenomenon than that Tuesday evening,” the Weekly Arizona Miner recorded. Although it will never be known if this storm produced an actual tornado back then, the description sounds especially “tornado like.”
It was still daylight around 6:30pm when “a huge black cloud emerged from the northern horizon [around Chino Valley] accompanied by a peculiar, rumbling sound similar to that which heralds the approach of a tornado,” the paper reported. Within a half-hour Prescott “was overcast by a dense black cloud which so completely shut off the light of day that objects could not be distinguished 100 yards distant.” This was immediately followed by “torrential rainfall” before the entire storm blew away toward the south.
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It would be nearly 40 years later before the local Prescott paper described any reports of a tornado. It was 1910 when electrical power was cut-off for 24 hours “due to a tremendous tornado that passed over [the] Willow Creek sub-station, situated about 18 miles east of Mayer and about half-way up the Sycamore range of mountains,” the Weekly Journal-Miner described. The tower station suffered a direct hit. “So tremendous was the tornado that the roof of their big barn was lifted from its position and taken down the gulch below for a distance of over a half-mile, and lodged in the trees thereabouts,” the paper described.
Prior to that, lightning struck and snapped off “a dozen set of insulators,” while “three [electrical towers] were torn from their anchorage and the cable lines thrown in all directions,” the paper told. After the tornado passed, “the rain began to fall in torrents, and all efforts to repair the damage under these conditions was fruitless.” An auxiliary plant was put into service to restore electricity to the Prescott area while every available man worked around the clock to make the repairs.
A mere four years later, evidence of a tornado was discovered three miles east of Skull Valley. After a hail storm, a miner, passing through the unpopulated area, found “scores of Pinyon trees and oak brush that were ripped out of the ground by the roots,” the Journal-Miner reported. “Some of the trees [were] large and their roots imbedded in the soil to a depth of over five feet.” For a width of 200 yards “the soil [was] denuded of everything in the line of vegetation,” the paper said.
It was five years later in 1919 when Frank Erlanger of the geodetic survey corps was “making observations with his instruments” just below the summit of Granite Mountain on the south side, when a funnel cloud from the north kissed the top of the peak. Erlanger was “throw from a boulder to the ground eight feet below, sustaining injuries to both his legs,” the Journal-Miner related.
Unfortunately “his fine blooded camp dog” was standing under a tree nearby when a limb broke off and struck the canine. “It died a short time afterward,” Erlanger related. He believed that had he been on the side of the peak that faced the funnel he “might have been severely injured.”
Fast forward to 1954: “The sighting of a fairly large tornado in the Chino Valley area at 11:40am [August 5,] resulted in a radio broadcast of tornado warnings issued by the weather bureau at the Prescott airport,” the Prescott Evening Courier reported. This rare occurrence required a weather bureau spokesmen to explain the basics to a surprised populace: “Such warnings are issued when tornado conditions exist and tornados are sighted,” he said. Issuing the warning after the sighting “was in compliance with [the] department’s regulations.”
“The tornado occurred during an especially heavy rainstorm,” the paper reported. It stayed on the ground for eight minutes “before disappearing into heavy clouds.” A second twister’s tail was seen around 1pm, “but dissipated in five minutes” without touching the earth. There were no injuries nor damage reported.
|1964 tornado safety ad|
When reporting on a tornado that struck in 1967, the perplexed Prescott Courier reporter started his article with: “This is Yavapai County?” The tornado was reported “in the Lonesome Valley—Mayer—Humboldt area” and was witnessed by several persons in the area and also by a pilot flying above the whirling funnel.” The pilot reported that it touched down “on what appeared to be the Iron King [mine] tailings pond.” It was 50 feet across and “hovered for about ten minutes on the western most tailing pond.” Mine officials confirmed that some of the tailings “whirled around them for more than a mile.” There were no injuries, but it did destroy some road signs.
Chino Valley was hit again on August 7 1969, when “a violent tornado hit…leaving uprooted trees and torn buildings its path.” Worst hit was “the Bill Rezzonico ranch where it ripped their shop apart and threw pieces of a hay barn over the surrounding fields.”
While tornados generally stay away from the base of mountains, the large valleys of western Yavapai County have experienced them and inevitably, will again someday.
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Weekly Arizona Miner, 7/22/1871, Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/27/1910, Pg. 6, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 6/24/1914, Pg. 5, Col. 7.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/8/1919, Pg. 3, Cols. 5-6.
Prescott Evening Courier, 8/5/1954, Pg. 1, Col. 8.
Prescott Courier, 8/6/1967, Pg. 1, Cols. 1-2.
Prescott Evening Courier, 8/8/1969, Pg. 1.
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