Driest Cities in the United States

Least Amount of Rain

Many cities in the western United States have dry climates. Las Vegas and Phoenix get so little rain or snow, less than 10 inches (250 millimetres) a year on average, that they're considered deserts. The rainfall at Riverside and San Diego amounts to just over the desert threshold.

One of these cities stands out as much more arid than the rest.

Las Vegas is the only large US city to average less than an inch (25 mm) of rain for every month of the year. At its driest, Las Vegas hasn't even accumulated an inch of rain throughout an entire year.

The driest year on record for Las Vegas is 1953, when 0.56 inches (14 mm) fell at the airport. More recent dry years include 2002, 2006 and 2009, each of which received less than 1.7 inches (43 mm) of rainfall. In comparison, the second driest of America's large cities, Phoenix, has never had under 2.8 inches (71 mm) of rain in a year.

When a rain cloud does pass over Las Vegas, it usually drops less than one-tenth of an inch and seldom does the city get more than half an inch of rain in one day. That's not to say Las Vegas doesn't have the occasional cloudburst. Just over two inches (51 mm) of rain soaked the city on July 8, 1999 and 2.6 inches (66 mm) landed on August 21, 1957. It's uncommon, though for Las Vegas to get more than two inches of rain in an entire month.

The city's rainiest year on record was 1941 when 10.68 inches (271 mm) of precipitation accumulated. Even then, the weather for two months that year was completed dry.

Large American cities with less than 20 inches (508 mm) on average of rain and snow a year
City Annual Precipitation
Inches Milli­metres
Las Vegas, Nevada 4.2 106
Phoenix, Arizona 8.2 208
Riverside, California 10.3 262
San Diego, California 10.3 263
Los Angeles, California 12.8 326
Denver, Colorado 15.6 396
San Jose, California 15.8 402
Salt Lake City, Utah 16.1 409
Sacramento, California 18.5 470

These precipitation totals are averages based on weather data collected from 1981 to 2010 for the NOAA National Climatic Data Center. The major cities included in the weather rankings represent the 51 metropolitan areas in the United States with the biggest populations, all those with over one million people in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau. A complete list of America's 51 largest urban centers is available here.

Some smaller dry cities are also worth mentioning. Yuma, Arizona, with only 3.3 inches (84 mm) of rain a year, ranks among the driest places to live in the USA. Averaging just under ten inches (254 mm) of annual rainfall are El Paso, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Most Dry Days

In America's driest cities, at least 8 out of 10 days have no precipitation. Seven large cities have over 300 dry days a year. Las Vegas, the least rainy of all, usually never sees more than four wet days a month.

For cities in central and southern California, the little rain they do get lands mainly during spring, fall and winter. They typically receive one-tenth of an inch of rainfall at most throughout July and August.

Cities that average over 300 days annually without rainfall or snowfall
City Dry Days a Year
Las Vegas, Nevada 339
Phoenix, Arizona 335
Riverside, California 335
Los Angeles, California 329
San Diego, California 324
Sacramento, California 305
San Jose, California 303

National Climatic Data Center. NOAA's 1981-2010 Climate Normals.

Western Regional Climate Center

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