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Cold turkey: Chilly and wet Thanksgiving expected across Arizona

Another cold and wet week is setting up across Arizona, which, unfortunately, will affect the Thanksgiving holiday. The approaching storm looks to be the biggest to take aim at the state so far this winter season, making for messy holiday travel.

The first of three storms to impact Arizona brought a cold front early Tuesday morning, depressing temperatures across the state. Highs will top out roughly 10 degrees lower than Monday, with low 60s expected in Phoenix and Tucson, and mid-30s in Flagstaff.

Precipitation will begin Wednesday night, bringing up to 2 inches of rain to metro Tucson and as much as 2-3 feet of snow to higher elevations. Temperatures will huddle below normal for the rest of the week, and by the weekend, Tucson could experience its lowest temperatures since late February.

On Wednesday, the weather pattern over the Southwest will be similar to what developed last week, when areas of low pressure merged over the Great Basin states. The first will arrive Wednesday night over New Mexico, providing ample moisture in southeastern Arizona. Rain totals of 1 to 2 inches are expected by the end of the day in Douglas, Willcox and Sierra Vista.

The third storm will begin to move in on Thanksgiving. A combination of remnant moisture over southeastern Arizona and off the Baja peninsula will prime the atmosphere for rain and snow showers across the state.

A complete washout of outdoor plans is likely on Thanksgiving, and possibly into Black Friday shopping as the northern Pacific low slowly moves east. A second cold front will move through on Friday, and precipitation will end Friday night. Expect weather delays in and out of Tucson International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway.

A Flash flood watch will be in effect from Thursday morning through Friday afternoon for a portion of Southeast Arizona, including the following areas: Baboquivari Mountains, Catalina and Rincon Mountains, Galiuro and Pinaleno Mountains, South Central Pinal County, Southeast Pinal County, Tohono O`odham Nation, Tucson Metro Area, Upper Gila River Valley, Upper Santa Cruz River Valley/Altar Valley, Western Pima County, and the White Mountains of Graham and Greenlee Counties.

Significant water flow is expected in most waterways, washes and rivers. Some areas of flash flooding are possible. Low-water crossings may become impassable in vulnerable locations, especially in rural areas, according to the National Weather Service.

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Many high country communities will experience their first significant snow of the season. Winter storm watches are in place for areas with elevation above 4,500 feet Thursday morning through Friday evening, which will be upgraded to winter storm warnings later this week.

Precipitation will begin as rain for areas below 6,500 feet, before transitioning to snow Thursday night. The snow level could drop as low as 3,000 feet by Friday morning, but accumulations below 3,500 feet are unlikely. Snow accumulations will range from 1 to 2 feet above 6,000 feet, with isolated locations with 3 feet or more possible. From 3,500 to 6,000 feet, amounts will total 2 to 10 inches.

The best day to travel will be Wednesday, but conditions will quickly deteriorate across northern Arizona on Thanksgiving, prompting the National Weather Service to recommend against travel that day. If you must travel, have a winter weather kit available in your car, and alert others of your travel plans. For the latest road closures from the Arizona Department of Transportation, dial 511.

In Tucson, temperatures will remain below the normal of 69 until Monday. Days will start out in the 30s and 40s before rebounding into the 50s and 60s.

Heading into next week, long-range forecast models suggest the pattern will remain wet, but warmer than this week, with temperatures back near normal.

*Maria Coxon-Smith contributed to this story.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A woman carrying a University of Arizona umbrella heads to class as snow falls around the UA campus on February 22, 2019.