Oceanic and atmospheric indicators of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) continue to indicate a weak La Niña event that is likely to last through mid-winter at least and perhaps into early spring (Figs. 1-2). The borderline weak status of the event, along with some discrepancy between the forecast agencies discussed here, means a more rapid transition to ENSO-neutral conditions cannot be ruled out. As with last month, there is some hedging in the forecasts and outlooks that likely stems from ongoing uncertainty as to whether the event can maintain even weak La Niña strength through winter 2017 (December–February). Fluctuations in forecasts and models are due to the limited coordination between oceanic and atmospheric conditions described in previous outlooks, “masking…by intra-seasonal activity” (as described by the CPC on Dec 8), and the difficulty in categorizing borderline conditions into a binary choice between weak La Niña and ENSO-neutral.
Precipitation & Temperature: November precipitation totals were average to above average in Arizona’s climate divisions, and above average to much above average in New Mexico’s climate divisions (Fig. 1a). November temperatures were much above average across most of Arizona and all of New Mexico (Fig. 1b). This continued a trend of warm temperatures this fall, with parts of Arizona and New Mexico recording record warm temperatures in October and November (Fig. 2). Very little precipitation has fallen in December. This is not unexpected, as the Southwest generally receives limited precipitation between the end of the monsoon and early fall tropical storm activity and the uptick in precipitation in mid-winter into spring (when much of the cool season precipitation falls in the region). Temperatures in December have been mostly above normal in Arizona and western New Mexico, with cooler-than-normal temperatures in eastern New Mexico (Fig. 3). The upcoming polar vortex in the upper midwestern and eastern U.S., in addition to atmospheric river activity off the U.S. Pacific Coast, should shift this pattern in the latter half of December.
Water year precipitation (October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016) was below average in much of the Southwest, particularly in Southern California, most of southern Arizona, and western New Mexico, and average to above average in northern Arizona and eastern New Mexico (Fig. 1). Spatial representations of cumulative water year precipitation adequately characterize the overall distribution of above- and below-average precipitation totals, but they do little to document the month-by-month accumulation of precipitation. This can be important, as heavy precipitation events such as tropical storm activity or monsoon events can quickly boost yearly totals, but with a lesser contribution to long-term water storage (as water from extreme events is lost to evaporation and runoff).
Oceanic and atmospheric indicators of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) continue to indicate the likelihood of a weak La Niña event this winter (Figs. 1-2), although the chance of an ENSO-neutral winter cannot be ruled out. Any hedging in the forecasts and outlooks likely stems from uncertainty as to whether the event will maintain even weak La Niña strength through winter 2017 (December–February). Fluctuations in forecasts and models are likely due to the limited coordination between oceanic and atmospheric conditions described in previous outlooks, as well as generally borderline conditions (i.e., between weak La Niña and ENSO-neutral).
Precipitation & Temperature: October precipitation totals were below average across most of the climate divisions in Arizona and New Mexico, except for parts of western Arizona and central New Mexico (Fig. 1a). October temperatures were much above average across all of the two states, with record-warm observations in southern and eastern New Mexico (Fig. 1b). November precipitation to date has been buoyed by storm events that pushed in as part of a cutoff low. This rainfall may boost the percent of average precipitation calculations to impressive numbers, but the actual amount of rain that has fallen has been relatively meager (Fig. 2). In terms of regional climate, November tends to be one of the drier months. November temperatures have continued the trend observed in October (“Hot-tober”), ranging from 2 to 8 degrees F above normal across most of Arizona and New Mexico, a pattern that extends across the Intermountain West (Fig. 3).
In spring 2014, I left my job in Seattle and went on a road trip to tour coal country from Appalachia to Arizona. I was searching for answers to restless questions: how, in the face of climate change, would the US transition its entrenched fossil fuel infrastructure to renewables? How could that transition re-center culture, community, and a sustainable economy? Through a 6-week volunteer stint at Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), I began to see the outlines of answers in BMWC’s work to develop community-based solar. I knew I wanted to stay connected to this important work and support it however I could.
Just a year later, I was back at Black Mesa Water Coalition as a student at the University of Arizona and a Climate and Society Graduate Fellow with CLIMAS (also funded by the Renewable Energy Network’s Future Energy Leaders Summer Fellowship program). This time, I was working together with the small but mighty nonprofit to write a report about challenges, opportunities, and recommendations to develop solar power on the Navajo Nation (read more).
It takes ten years to grow trees but a hundred years to educate a person--Chinese Proverb
On the Loess Plateau
Agriculture has always been a crucial part of the Chinese identity and cultural heritage. At the heart of China, where agriculture began to flourish, is the Loess Plateau, which has taken millions of years to be blown in by the wind, and known as ‘cradle of Chinese civilization’. The Loess Plateau covers an area 2.5 times the size of UK, and is stripped away by the mighty Yellow River, a raging torrent which washes up to 1.6 billion tons of soil downstream every year (Williams 2010).
Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers in China and around the globe have been working on soil and water conservation on Loess Plateau since the dawn of 20th Century. From the eastern part of Loess Plateau, climate transitioned from semi-arid to arid to the inner west. Facing the encroaching desertification from the deserts to the northwest, and the massive urbanization projects within the region, rural farmers on the Loess Plateau are torn between conservation, mechanization, and economic development. (read more)
The Southwest saw the first strong burst of widespread monsoon activity near the end of June, followed by a break in monsoon activity over the first half of July as atmospheric circulation patterns and lack of available moisture limited opportunities for widespread storms to develop, especially at lower elevations. By mid-to-late July, increasingly favorable conditions helped storms to form and spread, culminating in an extended period of widespread activity during late July and early August. Tropical Storm Javier helped jumpstart activity again in mid-August, providing a brief extension to storm activity via a surge of moisture from the Gulf of California. The remainder of August and September saw a decline in widespread monsoon activity, even while numerous areas did receive intermittent precipitation, particularly at higher elevations. On September 7, Hurricane Newton generated significant precipitation in a swath across southwestern Arizona and into central New Mexico. Finally, portions of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico saw a run of storms linked to a cutoff low in late September.
Precipitation and Temperature: September precipitation totals were near average across most of the climate divisions in Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 1a), with one notable departure being the swath of above-average precipitation in the borderlands region linked to Tropical Storm Newton. September temperatures were average to below average in Arizona and average to above average in New Mexico (Fig. 1b). October precipitation to date has been below average across most of the region (Fig. 2), although October is one of the drier months in the Southwest, so dry conditions are not unexpected, and a single tropical storm or fall storm can skew the percent of normal. October temperatures have been 2 to 6 degrees above average for most of New Mexico and 0 to 4 degrees above average for most of Arizona (Fig. 3). This is in part connected to global trends that are likely to see 2016 as the warmest year on record (breaking the record set in 2015).
In the last month, oceanic and atmospheric indicators of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have pushed forecasts back towards an increased likelihood of a La Niña event this winter (Figs. 1-2). Models are indicating an increased possibility of these conditions sustaining through winter 2017, leading to greater certainty regarding the formation of a weak La Niña event in late 2016 or early 2017. However, the chance of an ENSO-neutral winter cannot be entirely ruled out. Fluctuations in forecasts and models are likely due to the limited coordination between oceanic and atmospheric conditions described in previous outlooks, as well as generally borderline conditions between weak La Niña and ENSO-neutral.