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El Niño Tracker - June 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Originally Published in the June 2015 CLIMAS SW Climate Outlook (SWCO)

El Niño conditions continued for a fourth straight month with no signs of weakening or disorganizing. Forecasts focused on the persistence of sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies (Figs.1 - 2) along with weakening trade winds, ongoing convective activity, and El Niño-related ocean-atmosphere coupling. Despite the high degree of uncertainty associated with forecasting El Niño this time of year (the so-called spring predictability barrier), the most recent outlooks from various sources offer a consistent cluster of forecasts calling for a clear El Niño signal that is maintained or even strengthening. (read more)

Image Source - Australian Bureau of Meteorology

2015 El Niño Tracker

Friday, May 22, 2015

Originally published in the May 2015 CLIMAS SW Climate Outlook

El Niño continued for a third straight month, with no signs of weakening or dissipating. Forecasts keyed in on persistent sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies (Figs. 1–2), along with weakening trade winds, ongoing convective activity, and El Niño-related ocean-atmosphere coupling. If these conditions continue, we are likely to see the effects of a moderate El Niño event–or stronger if conditions continue to strengthen. Spring forecasts have a higher degree of uncertainty, owing to the so-called spring predictability barrier, a likely source of vacillations in recent forecasts. (read more)

Image Source - Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Colorado River Delta: Pulse Flow - One Year Later

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Colorado River Delta hadn’t seen regularly flowing water in 50 years.  But one year ago the U.S. and Mexico came together to work on a project to move water down the empty riverbed.

On March 23, 2014 these countries released more than 100,000 acre-feet of water into the delta below the Morelos Dam.  This area is along the Colorado River on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

On May 15, 2014, the river finally met the sea. (read more)

El Niño Tracker - April 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

This was originally published in the April 2015 Southwest Climate Outlook

Strong signals in early 2014 stalled, delaying El Niño’s onset until last month, when ocean-atmosphere coupling and an additional Kelvin wave indicated more favorable conditions. Despite this late start, El Niño continued for a second consecutive month. Recent increases in sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies (Fig.1 - 2) and ongoing convective activity associated with El Niño-favorable conditions indicate we might be witnessing a two-year El Niño event. These forecasts rely on projections during a time of increasing uncertainty, and the so-called “spring predictability barrier” continues to make it difficult to anticipate how seasonal changes will help or hinder El Niño. (read more)

Chris Guiterman - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Thursday, March 12, 2015

From the very beginning, Chris Guiterman just wanted an opportunity to expand his collaboration with the Navajo Forestry Department, and to demonstrate what he could do to help them. 

Guiterman is a 2014 recipient of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Arizona, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, working in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

He used the CLIMAS fellowship to jumpstart a project that he had been struggling to fund.

Tribal nations across the Southwest are increasingly at risk of climate change impacts on the landscape, and because many of these nations rely on the ecosystem services of healthy forests, the risks are intensified. 

“Tasked with managing over 5 million acres of forests and woodlands, the Navajo Forestry Department has identified the need to assess sensitivities of their forests to drought and climate change,” according to the abstract of Guiterman’s research project. Guiterman worked with the NFD foresters to address their needs by quantifying the climatic drivers of forest growth in the Chuska Mountains. (read more)

Rebecca Lybrand - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

To Rebecca Lybrand, calling soil “dirt” is simplistic and diminishes its importance to plants, animals, and human beings.  So why is soil, the foundation of life, constantly being referred to as “dirt?”  Rebecca began this line of thinking in college, and this spark of curiosity turned a simple question into a career. 

Rebecca is now a soil scientist at The University of Arizona.  She received her Ph.D. from The University of Arizona’s Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science (SWES) in 2014. She is also a recipient of the 2014 Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellowship. 

Rebecca’s CLIMAS project centered on creating two short films that documented her research across the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. These films showcase four of her field sites, which span over 4000 feet of elevation gain. The sites differ in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation, all of which have remarkable impacts on the characteristics of these soils. 

The visuals for both films are the same, but the scripts change to present the science message in two different contexts. One uses a lively, first person perspective that relays a scientific story, using Rebecca’s personal experience to frame the film.  The other is in third person, and presents a formal video delivering a more scientific message along the lines of what you might see in a science documentary. The main objective of this project is to survey students and to evaluate the effectiveness of formal and informal communication techniques. (read more)

Ling-Yee Huang - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When Ling-Yee Huang received the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellowship a year ago, she proposed to create a climate science curriculum for law schools.  Little did she know, she would actually be teaching her own class on climate science curriculum for lawyers, at the James A. College of Law at The University of Arizona.

Huang is currently a M.S. student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) at the University of Arizona, as well as a researcher at the Water Resources Research Center (WRRC).  Previously, she earned a J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rice University.

Before coming to UA, Huang worked as a policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform in Washington, D.C.  She provided legal analysis regarding the Clean Water Act and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, and she developed legal frameworks for climate change adaptation and protecting ecosystem services.

“I have always really liked the idea of combining science and decision making,” said Huang.  “I started grad school having worked in the decision and policy making field for a couple of years and in that experience I felt that there was a real lack of understanding of science.”

Huang said when she learned about the CLIMAS fellowship, she realized it captured her dual interests in both science and policy perfectly. The curriculum and her final project were ideas she had been contemplating for a long time. 

“I found it the perfect fit,” said Huang. (read more)

Sarah Truebe - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sarah Truebe has always been a caver.  She grew up thinking the only things people should take from caves are photographs, but as she began her career as a paleoclimate scientist, she realized that scientists often take a lot more than photographs.

A stalagmite is a cylindrical mineral deposit, formed over hundreds or thousands of years on the floor of a cave, making them utterly non-renewable on human timescales.  Stalagmites contain valuable paleoclimate data; however, most of the time getting this information means permanently removing the stalagmite from the cave. 

“As the popularity of stalagmite paleoclimate science grows, development of sustainable sampling methods for these nonrenewable resources is necessary to balance the needs of science and cave conservation,” Truebe said. 

Truebe is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona and is also a 2014 recipient of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program. She used this opportunity to collect information on different stalagmite sampling methods, with the intention of developing best practice recommendations for extraction. (read more)

El Niño Tracker - Southwest Climate Outlook February 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

Originally published in the Feb 2015 CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

A definitive 2014–2015 El Niño forecast remains elusive. Weak El Niño conditions have continued in 2015, but recent backsliding in SST anomalies (Fig. 1), especially in the Niño 1-2 regions (Fig. 2), along with the ongoing lack of coordination between atmospheric and oceanic conditions, give little confidence that the 2014–2015 event will be characterized as anything more than a weak El Niño. (read more)

Image Source - NOAA-National Climatic Data Center

2015 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellows

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program supports University of Arizona graduate students whose work connects climate research and decision making. Fellows receive $5,000 and guidance from members of the CLIMAS research team (Climate Assessment for the Southwest) for one year. The program’s main objective is to train a group of students to cross the traditional boundaries of academic research into use-inspired science and applied research. While CLIMAS research generally occurs in the Southwest U.S., the Fellows program allows students to work anywhere in the world. (read more)

El Niño Tracker - January 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

Just when it looked like we were getting a more definitive answer regarding El Niño, ongoing lack of cooperation on the part of the atmosphere continues to muddy forecasts moving into 2015. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) remain elevated across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1), and while temperature anomalies in the Niño 3.4 region are within the range of a weak El Niño event, they have declined in the past month (Fig. 2). It is a common refrain in forecast bulletins that a lack of coupling between ocean and atmosphere is responsible for decreased confidence in an El Niño event this winter. Additionally, a lack of temperature gradient along the equatorial Pacific and little in the way of El Niño wind patterns further reduce confidence that a stronger event is on the horizon. (read more)

El Niño Tracker Update - Late November 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

From the Nov 20, 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

The long-awaited El Niño event projected to develop during winter 2014 – 2015 has yet to send a decisive signal regarding an official start, but a number of factors have increased forecasters’ confidence that one will emerge. The strength of this event still remains in question, however with the most likely projection still centering on a weak or weak to moderate event (

Monsoon Recap - June 15 - Sept 30, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

Looking back on the 2014 monsoon, a simple characterization of the season as ‘normal’ or ‘average’ (or above or below these thresholds) is difficult, given the spatial and temporal variability of monsoon storms. The cumulative seasonal totals provide one way of characterizing the monsoon, and by those metrics, the Southwest saw an average to above-average summer rainy season, with much of Arizona and New Mexico receiving well above-average rainfall. (read more)

This post was originally published as part of the October 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

2014/2015 El Niño Tracker: Oct 16, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An El Niño Watch, issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC), continues for the seventh consecutive month as signs of an emerging El Niño are just on the horizon, but not quite here yet. Another slug of warm water (also known as a Kelvin wave), has been making its way across the Pacific Ocean from west to east just below the surface and is poised to emerge and help warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific over the next month or so...(read more)

This post was originally published as part of the October 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

Monsoon Summary (June 15 – Sep 18)

Friday, September 19, 2014

We are nearing the end of the 2014 season, and while it is difficult to characterize the highly variable day-to-day storms of any monsoon as “normal,” we have had a fairly typical if not above-average monsoon season in terms of precipitation. Regional assessment is complicated by the effects of a few extreme events that amplified precipitation amounts in parts of Arizona and New Mexico and caused an entire month’s or year’s worth of precipitation to fall in a single storm. (read more)

This post was originally published as part of the September 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

El Niño Tracker - Sept 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The song remains the same this month with El Niño not quite here yet, but probably soon. This is now the seventh consecutive month since the NOAA Climate Prediction Center issued an “El Niño Watch” last March. The signs are a bit stronger once again, but it is getting late in the game...(read more)

This post was originally published as part of the September 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

Monsoon Summary (June 15 - Aug 19)

Friday, August 22, 2014

The 2014 monsoon can be characterized many ways—the amount and intensity of rain has been spotty both spatially and temporally, the humidity has been persistently high, and precipitation has improved short-term drought conditions in many areas. Certainly it cannot be characterized as a dud. (read more)

This post was originally published as part of the August 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

El Niño Watch - Aug 21, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An “El Niño Watch” continues this month as issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center several months ago. The watch is just that: we are waiting and watching for the development of a full-fledged El Niño event that has yet to materialize across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Several indicators of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) status declined, moving back towards ENSO-neutral values over the past month instead of leaning towards an El Niño event as they had been.  These shifts included slight cooling in the eastern Pacific Ocean and near-average wind patterns along the equator. But for those cheering on the development of an El Niño event, not all hope is lost (read more).

This post was originally published as part of the August 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

Recap: Drought and Water Supplies in the Southwest - 1075' Shortage on the Colorado River

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This week, we released the 5th episode in the CLIMAS podcast series[1] 1075' - Shortage on the Colorado River, which explores what a shortage declaration on the Colorado River would mean to those living in the Southwest.  In this post - Ben McMahan recaps some of the key issues that formed the impetus for this podcast series, summarizes the podcast episodes, and gives some backstory from folks who have been writing about the Colorado River (Basins) for years (read more)

Arizona Facing High Fire Danger a Year After Yarnell

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It was one year ago that lightning struck and ignited the Yarnell Hill Fire, a devastating wildfire that resulted in the deaths of 19 firefighters who were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. This year, a combination of drought conditions, high winds and high temperatures all call for an intense fire season. Predictions indicate above-normal fire potential, and indicators suggest the onset of the monsoon season will be delayed.

Since October, we've had very low precipitation – averaging less than half of average across large portions of the state – accompanied by low snowpack and temperatures that have been well above average.

The combination of these factors, along with bursts of dry winds that are typical for the spring, gives us conditions of above-normal fire potential, which is what the Southwest Coordination Center, the main fire prediction center for our region, predicted beginning in late January.  (read more)