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Sun, Dec. 15

Mundane monsoon season: Near normal rainfall; wet winter predicted

PRESCOTT - Northern Arizona is back to normal, according to a National Weather Service about the 2015 monsoon, June 15-Sept. 30.

"It was a typical monsoon in that it was variable across the area," Weather Service forecaster Justin Johndrow said.

He said in 2013 and 2014, monsoons were a lot wetter, though a typical monsoon this year meant enough moisture in Arizona's high country.

"The fact that most areas were close to normal, it kept it from drying out over the region," Johndrow said.

The monitoring station at Prescott Municipal Airport observed precipitation of 7.54 inches for the season. That's more than 1 inch above normal, and compared to annual totals dating back to 1948, this year ranks as the 22nd wettest.

But it was a different story at Weather Service satellite monitoring station at the Sundog Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Total precipitation at the Sundog plant totaled 4.78 inches for the season, more than 3 inches below normal. Among records starting in 1898, this was the 16th driest, as recorded at the wastewater plant.

Johndrow said that type of variability is what's expected for a typical monsoon.

"It probably came down to a couple of days when a storm hit that northern area," he said.

Looking across the region, many areas in Yavapai County reported near-normal rainfall.

Bagdad recorded 5.40 inches, Chino Valley 6.23 inches and Cottonwood 5.37 inches - all three within 1 percent of normal.

Jerome was down 11 percent at 6.52 inches and Seligman was 3 percent below normal at 5.40 inches.

The near-normal rainfall is further reflected in the weekly drought summaries produced at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

While most of Arizona remains in moderate drought conditions, no areas of the state saw worsening of drought conditions, and some areas saw improvement since mid-June.

Climatologists downgraded drought severity from severe to moderate for the Grand Canyon and parts of northern Coconino and Mohave counties. Similar improvements occurred in southeast Arizona and the White Mountains, including Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, eastern Pima, and southern Apache and Navajo counties.

Johndrow said the overall drought situation has yet to be seen, as weather and climate experts are still expecting a strong El Niño year.

"For Arizona and New Mexico, an El Niño event means increased probability of receiving above-average winter precipitation, generally between October and March," Ben McMahan and Michael Crimmins at the Climate Assessment for the Southwest at University of Arizona wrote in an explanation about the weather phenomenon posted to CLIMAS website in late September.

McMahan and Crimmins said there is variability in El Niño events, though "there is no guarantee that any given El Niño event will lead to wetter than average conditions."

They said based on predictions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, "The best chances for observing above-average winter precipitation cover all of Arizona and New Mexico, but are slightly better for the southern half of each state."

Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen. Reach him at 928-445-3333, ext. 1110, or 928-830-9305.

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