March could be 'last hurrah' for El Niño

March could be the last month that the current El Niño climate pattern brings a strong dose of extra precipitation to the Southwest.

El Niño warms the equatorial Pacific Ocean and if warm enough, it brings extra winter moisture to the Southwest by forcing the Pacific jet stream to swing to the south.

February was the third month in a row with above-average precipitation in Prescott, although the precipitation numbers and storm strengths weren't as impressive as December and January.

This El Niño turned out to be on the "high end of the moderate" scale, said George Howard of the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff.

Equatorial Pacific waters are starting to cool down again, so it's likely that the above-average rains around here will come to an end by the last few weeks in March or first few weeks in April, Howard said.

"March is kind of our last hurrah," Howard said. "March is going to probably be the last good chance to get more (rain) than what we expect."

Prescott's Sundog measuring site on the northeast side of the city measured 2.04 inches of precipitation in February, or 110 percent of the 112-year city average of 1.85 inches.

Sundog also recorded 4.8 inches of snow in February, close to the average of 4.7 inches.

The final weekend of the short month of February brought widespread snow to the region, including 1.5 to 2 inches in Prescott, 4 inches in Crown King and 6 inches in Groom Creek south of Prescott.

El Niño years produce on the average 143 percent of normal precipitation in December through March, according to the federal government's Climate Prediction Center.

January's total precipitation in Prescott was the sixth-highest total on record. The month's precip added up to 5.6 inches, with all but 0.05 inches falling Jan. 18-23. That storm produced the third-highest storm total precipitation on record. The 2.97 inches of precipitation that fell on Jan. 22 in Prescott also made the record books, placing 10th on the city's list of all-time wettest days.

December's total precipitation was at 3.32 inches, exactly twice as much as the 111-year average for the month. A Pearl Harbor Day storm brought 2.12 inches of precipitation and 74 mph wind gusts that created blizzard conditions. At least 4,000 Yavapai County homes were without power temporarily and at least 60 trees fell over, with several mature pine trees toppling onto homes.

Howard, who lives in the Flagstaff region that has seen about 10 feet of snow this winter, said he's personally not reached the point where he hopes the snow will end.

"We can take some more," he said.

However, "It's a little bit easier for those folks with snow blowers."