Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Wed, June 19

Recent rains help<BR><I>But don't come close to reversing drought</I>

PRESCOTT – A series of three strong storms since late December has done wonders for the Prescott area's grass and lakes, but it hasn't punched much of a dent in the 11-year drought.

The region has seen a break from the drought since October, with significant above-average precipitation every month. And February's rains already have pushed Prescott over its 107-year average, with 2.18 inches of rain versus the average 1.85 inches.

Since Oct. 1, the official National Weather Service measuring site on the northeast side of Prescott has recorded 7.6 extra inches of rain beyond its average for those months com-bined.

But the precipitation deficit since the drought trend began in 1994 still adds up to a whopping 38.62 inches at this moment, using the 107-year average of 19.04 inches per year.

Some scientists have used tree ring data to conclude that 2002 was the driest year in the Southwest in 1,500 years. The precipitation deficit that year alone in Prescott was 11.87 inches, well beyond the extra 7.6 inches of rain the city has seen the past 4.5 months.

Other scientists warn that Southwestern droughts tend to last 20 to 30 years, with a handful of wet years thrown in periodically.

So this recent wet trend could be just an anomaly like 1998, or it could be the beginning of the end of the drought.

Only time will tell.

"It's helping a little bit in the near term and maybe creeping into the medium term," meteorologist George Howard at the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff said of the recent strong storms.

"But when you're talking about forest health or recharging aquifers … it's still going to take us awhile to get back where we want to be for some of the natural systems that take longer to react," Howard said.

The most recent storms have produced so much rain that they have saturated the ground to the point that much of the rain now is just flowing downstream, Howard pointed out.

In fact, they've produced so much rain that some Prescottonians are shocking themselves by thinking that they've had enough.

They'd better get ready to see more. The National Weather Service is predicting that this area could get about an inch of rain from the next storm that the Weather Service expects to last from Friday through Monday, with the heaviest rain falling Friday and Satur-day.

Luckily, the rainfall will be spread out over a long enough time period that it might not trigger flooding again, Howard said.

The Verde Watershed has been the prime benefactor of all the recent storms, compared to other basins in Arizona. And Arizona has fared much better than the northern states of the West.

The Salt River Project has two reservoirs on the Verde River that not only are 100 percent full, but they also have dumped out another 500,000 acre-feet of water since they became full.

Contrast that with SRP's Roosevelt Lake on the Salt River, which is only 62 percent full, although smaller SRP reservoirs on the Salt are nearly full.

"Part of it is the storm track," Howard said of the higher precipitation in the Verde Watershed.

And part of the reason is the fact that the storms are so widespread, unlike the spotty storms the region experiences during the summer monsoon.

The recent rains basically have been falling on the entire 5,500-square-mile Verde Watershed and collecting into the Verde River.

"There's a great collection ability when you consider that rain is falling over the entire watershed," Howard said.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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