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Mon, May 20

El Niño fades, reducing hopes for precipitation

The chance of El Niño bringing above-average precipitation to the Prescott region is starting to look bleak.

The federal government downgraded El Niño to weak on Jan. 29 after a short period in the moderate category, said meteorologist Dan LeBlanc of the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff. Sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are

dropping.

If it's strong enough,

El Niño traditionally brings above-average precipitation to the Southwest between January and April as warm sea-surface temperatures spawn storms that track here from the south. The storm that produced an inch of snow in Prescott this week was the first one that tracked that pattern.

But a weak El Niño might not help this area much at all in the coming months.

"The present weak

El Niño may not deliver the anticipated above-average winter precipitation, leaving drought conditions to intensify, especially across Arizona," writes the University of Arizona's Climate Assessment for the Southwest for January.

To make matters potentially worse, the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a strong chance for above-average temperatures during Arizona's fire season of May and June.

Prescott could use some more of the El Niño effect, considering January was its third straight month of well-below-average precipitation. The jet stream keeps missing this area while bringing plentiful snow to parts of New Mexico and, to a lesser degree, parts of eastern Arizona.

The National Weather Service measuring site on the northeast side of Prescott recorded only

0.36 inches of precipitation in January, or 20.5 percent of the 109-year average of 1.75 inches.

January also produced only one inch of snow, which is only 16 percent of the 6.2-inch average.

January's precipitation figures for Prescott are deceiving because the measuring schedule at that site put some of the Jan. 31 snowfall into the Feb. 1 column. The snowfall event on Tuesday and Wednesday brought an inch of snow that added

up to 0.34 inches of moisture, but only 0.08 inches of that precipitation is on the January chart.

Like much of the Southwest, January's temperatures were below average in Prescott. Freezing temperatures wreaked havoc on water pipes and citrus crops in the desert regions of the state.

The average daily high temperature for Prescott this past month was

48.8 degrees compared to the long-term average of 50.7 degrees, while the average low was

19.5 degrees compared to the long-term average low of 21.3 degrees.

Verde River Basin snowpack measurement sites ranged from 50 percent to 75 percent of normal by Jan. 22.

Reservoir levels in the Verde River Basin were only 27 percent full by the end of 2006.

The southwestern half of Yavapai County was in a moderate short-term (meteorological) drought by the end of 2006, while the northeastern half was abnormally dry.

In the long-term or

hydrological picture, the western half of Yavapai County was normal while the eastern half was abnormally dry by the end of 2006.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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