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The Wild Enigma of Wickenburg Weather


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I had some questions about what temps would look like here in Wickenburg after moving in June.  My house is at the bottom of the Hassayampa River valley in the center of town - about the lowest point you can go without actually being in the river.  It's also on a slope, so the backyard is 10+ feet lower than the front yard, further away from the house and without any tree canopy.

Been measuring temps since moving in from front yard to back yard, and also morning to mid-afternoon.  What I have found - at least in my spot - is striking.  40+ degree temperature variations are the norm, and 50+ swings are not uncommon especially in fall.  In the summer I saw a particular day with a daytime high of 113 and an overnight low of 65.  This fall, I have seen a 27, 29 and now 25 low in my backyard (and those were only days I measured, they're probably all in this ballpark) only to hit somewhere between 77 and 81 at mid-day.  The humidity is low and I have seen no frost on anything thus far, despite the cold temps.  Interestingly enough, there are several cold-intolerant species growing at this same elevation up and down the road where you'd expect them to struggle.  There are bottle trees, silky oaks, chir pines, even a sissoo, and all are doing fine.

Also interesting - there don't appear to be any freak winter lows down here at the bottom of the Hassayampa River valley in Wickenburg.  The Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada maintains a weather station about a mile from my house in the river bottom - slightly lower than my backyard - and the coldest overnight low they've reported in the last 50 years was 15 degrees.    Even on historic days when places that are typically much warmer in the winter - Phoenix or Tucson - have had wildly low temps (for their areas, 17F in Tucson in the 70s was one data point I've found), we've stayed fairly consistent in just being cold in the morning.  The 2011 freeze that killed off half the exotics in Phoenix only took us to about 18F at the river bottom - not far from where we're at now - from what I see in the historical data.  From what I've observed, we're nearly always going to come within 5-10 degrees of a record low, many times a year.  The cold here is consistent but very short lived.  10 minutes after the sun crested the horizon it was already 3 degrees warmer in the shade.

This is probably an absolutely perfect place to really test the cold hardiness of plants.  We don't really frost, we get cold but consistently so and never freakishly cold events, we had no humidity and we heat up very quickly after sunrise.  I remember once reading a thread on this forum from a guy in Fallbrook who had claimed that some cold-sensitive palms of his (I forget which) were withstanding 15-17 degree lows at his house because it was in the bottom of a valley.  At the time I remember doubting the accuracy of his measurements - but now I'm wondering if perhaps he was experiencing the same phenomenon I am.  Is it possible that palms like Bismarckia nobilis or Copernicia alba would take this kind of cold under just these circumstances?  Obviously I'll find out this year with my Bismarckia.

What a wild weather ride here in Wickenburg.

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