January is here and with it comes the start of the first “good time” of the year in the Arizona desert. As anyone can tell you, there are two good times of the year in this area: spring and fall. Although winter is not bad — at least not by northeast and midwest standards — it’s not nearly as pleasant as what’s to come. And everyone knows that summer is just plain hell.
There are three things that make January especially good:
The days (and often nights) start getting warmer.
This is completely at odds with the way things are where I grew up, in the New York metropolitan area. There, the coldest months were usually January and February and you could pretty much expect at least one bad winter storm either (or both) months. In fact, it’s a 20-inch snowfall one January in northern New Jersey that drove me in search of warmer climates. (I do admit that I got more than I bargained for here.)
I remember my first New Year’s Day in the area. I’d moved to Wickenburg just a few days before, driving cross-country with my husband in my tiny Toyota MR-2. We were waiting for the moving van and decided to head down to Surprise to buy a few things for the apartment I’d be living in until our house sold and my husband could join me. I distinctly remember walking through the K-Mart shopping center parking lot on Grand Avenue — this is going back 11 years now, before all that other shopping sprung up on Grand and Bell Road. I was wearing a t-shirt. No jacket. Just a plain t-shirt. It was New Year’s Day, January 1, and all I could think about was how bundled up I’d be back in New Jersey that day.
I’ve found that the coldest month in Wickenburg is usually December. (This may be at odds with what the weather experts say about Phoenix, but its based on my observations here in Wickenburg over the past 11 years.) It starts warming up right after that. Although the nights in Wickenburg still get down to the 30s sometimes — and can drop even lower — they’re generally warmer than December’s nights, too.
Of course, there are facts and measurements to back this up. Here are some good references:
- National Weather Service Phoenix Normal Temperatures and Precipitation. This lists, by month, normal highs, lows, and average temperatures for Phoenix. Choose a month from the menu near the top of the page. You’ll also see a list of average precipitation by day.
- National Weather Service Phoenix Temperature Records. This also lists, by month, the record highs and lows for Phoenix. Be sure to check out the record high for June 26 if you’re curious why people bail out of Wickenburg in the summer months.
- Phoenix Monthly Temperatures, 1896 to Present. There’s nothing like over 100 years of temperature data to prove a point. This table has it all and I created the chart below to illlustrate the averages as a graph. (The Moose Brigade isn’t the only wickenburg-az.com contributor who has Excel skills.) Remember, these are average temperatures by month, which take into consideration each day’s high and low. (And yes, I do see that December is slightly warmer than January; but I’m sticking to my original statement in support of January being warmer.
Of course, you must remember that these are Phoenix temperatures. Things really are cooler up here in Wickenburg. We’re about 1000-1500 feet higher in elevation, have a lot less concrete and asphalt (at least right now; I can’t speak for the future), and there is some cooling along the riverbed (although I’m sure there was a lot more cooling when the water table was higher and the water ran above ground year-round). As a rule of thumb, I usually subtract 5 to 10 degrees from Phoenix temperatures to get the Wickenburg temperature.
Accurate Wickenburg temperatures can always be found from the National Weather Service page for the weather station at Wickenburg Airport. This station is maintained by NOAA, not the town or the folks at the airport or any organization with a home weather station that might not be set up properly. It’s accurate and reliable. You can also find current observation information right on the National Weather Service Page for Wickenburg, in the Current Conditions box. The box here shows what it looks like as I type this. I expect it to get a lot warmer today — up to 58°F, in fact.
Note that there’s a Local Weather section in the sidebar of this site. Unfortunately, that’s not Wickenburg weather. It’s weather for Glendale, AZ, which is the closest station I could add to this widget. But the link at the bottom of the section, labeled “More Weather Information” will take you to the Wickenburg page on the National Weather Service Web site where you can find more accurate information for the town.
The days get longer.
I think that one of the reasons the days get warmer in January is because they’re also getting longer. The sun here in Arizona is amazingly strong and it really heats up whatever it touches. That’s why the temperature drops like a brick when the sun goes down on a clear day.
Oddly enough, the days are getting longer right now primarily because the sun is setting roughly one minute later every day while rising at about the same time daily. You can see this in the accompanying sunrise/sunset table for Wickenburg for this month. This is calculated by software I have that can give me the exact time of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, and moon phase, as well as numerous twilight, azimuth, and altitude data for any point on the globe on any day in history. (The software is called Time Palette and it’s Mac only.If you’re wondering why I have it, it’s because as a pilot, I need some of this information for flying.)
I like longer days. I don’t like waking up in the dark and having it get dark before I’ve had time to finish my chores or have dinner. So longer days are good. And because we’re farther south than most of the country, our days are already longer than most other places in the country. And that’s very good.
A side note here: I was in Alaska on vacation this summer. We were there in early June, at least two weeks before the longest day. Yet it never got dark in Anchorage. Everything stayed open until 10:30 or later; a drive around the city revealed families playing together in parks, riding bikes, and doing lots of outdoor things. The simple formula light equals life certainly applied. I look forward to long days this summer and hope never to be that far north in the winter time.
If you’re interested in sunrise and sunset times for Wickenburg, we’ve got you covered. You can find this information in the sunrise/sunset calendar of the sidebar. It’s updated throughout the day so it only includes upcoming information. You can also view it for the entire year online at http://ical.mac.com/mlanger/Sun or, if you have a calendar program that supports subscriptions to iCalendars (such as Mac OS’s iCal), you can subscribe to it at webcal://ical.mac.com/mlanger/Sun.ics. Remember, this is information calculated specifically for Wickenburg, based on the GPS coordinates for Wickenburg Airport.
Sometimes there’s rain.
The third thing that’s good about January is that it sometimes rains. In fact, it did this past weekend.
Folks from wet places or even normal places probably aren’t too happy when it rains. But real desert dwellers are thrilled. Not only does the rain give us the water we so desperately need here in the desert, but it washes the dust off everything so it looks and smells clean and fresh. The rain we just experienced was a good soaking rain, the kind that really gets into the soil.
I expect the desert to look a lot greener in the coming weeks. The ranchers will like that, too. Plenty of grass for their cattle.
And, if we get more rain in the coming weeks, we might just get treated to one of those super-special springs, like the one in 1997 or 1998 — I can’t remember which. We’d just moved into our house and the El Nino winter had revealed all the leaks around the window frames. (Not a huge deal, as the house was new and still under warranty.) The desert was unbelievably green throughout January, February, and March. Then the flowers started opening, all over the desert. The quantity and variety was amazing. The Phoenix news was running stories about how certain types of plants that hadn’t bloomed in years were blooming. It was beautiful and it lured me into thinking that every spring would be so special. Unfortunately, you don’t get many flowers without rain. The last two springs have been especially disappointing.
You can get precipitation information for the Phoenix area from the National Weather Service links I listed above. The Wickenburg Weather page shows history information, so you can see how much rain has fallen within the past 3 or so days. If you want more details for the Phoenix area, the Phoenix Monthly Precipitation page has it, by month, from 1896 to the most recent ended month. I used that data to create this chart.
As the chart shows, January isn’t the only rainy month. It’s just one of the months that it’s more likely to rain than other months, which tend to be very dry.
What Do You Like about January in Wickenburg?
This is what I like about January in Wickenburg. What do you think? Use the Comments link or form for this article to let us know or to share links to your favorite weather resources.