In this episode of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Podcast, Mike Crimmins and Zack Guido discuss May weather in comparison to the record/near-record March conditions, what this means for snowpack, streamflow and reservoir conditions. They also discuss past/present/future wildfire, the imminence of summer heat, and the eventual relief monsoon conditions will bring. Oh and a bit of El Niño sprinkled throughout - the role it might be playing in seasonal outlooks, and how strong it might be.
Forecasts favor above-average temperatures in all of the Rio Grande/Bravo Basin, and above-average precipitation in the southern portion of the Basin, through August.
Los pronósticos favorecen las temperaturas por encima de la media en toda la cuenca del Río Grande / Bravo, y precipitaciones por encima de la media en la porción sur de la Cuenca, hasta agosto.
Precipitation & Temperature: April precipitation was average to above average in New Mexico, while most of Arizona was below average, including much-below average and record-dry conditions in the southwestern corner of the state (Fig. 1a). April temperatures were above average in nearly all of Arizona and New Mexico, with much-above average temperatures in southern Arizona (Fig. 1b). May has been dry in southern Arizona and New Mexico, while parts of northern Arizona and northern and eastern New Mexico have picked up decent precipitation relative to the normally dry May climate (Fig. 2). May temperatures in Arizona and New Mexico have ranged from 4 degrees below to 4 degrees above normal, while temperatures in higher latitudes and upper elevations (e.g. Upper Colorado River Basin, California Sierras, etc.) have been generally warmer than average, ranging from 0 to 8 degrees above normal. Water year precipitation has been normal to above normal across most of Arizona and New Mexico aside from a small pocket of dry conditions along the Arizona-Mexico border (Fig. 3).
Snowpack & Water Supply: Snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) have declined in Arizona and New Mexico as well as in the Upper Colorado River Basin region of Utah and Colorado (Fig. 4). While areas of well-above-average snowpack and SWE remain, particularly in the Great Basin and the California Sierras, persistent warm temperatures are reducing once-impressive snowpack levels back to normal. This has resulted in some remarkable streamflow forecasts, as well as incremental improvements in reservoir storage volumes (see reservoir levels).
Drought: Much of the West has seen improvements in drought conditions, and only 5.2 percent of the contiguous United States is now designated as experiencing moderate drought (D1) or worse. The wetter-than-normal conditions that helped reduce drought conditions across much of the West (see Fig. 3) provided limited relief (if any) in southern Arizona and New Mexico, which have experienced a return of both short- and long-term drought designations (Fig. 5). These changes are due to both near-record- to record-warm temperatures in recent months and very little precipitation falling since mid-January.
Wildfire, Environmental Health, & Safety: The transition from spring into summer brings rising temperatures, little precipitation, and frequent high winds that create highly favorable conditions for fire ignition and spread. As noted last month, fire managers are increasingly vigilant during this transitional season. This year, fire conditions have been enhanced by the senescence of grasses that thrived under the moisture of last fall and warm temperatures this winter into spring, and have now left behind a pervasive blanket of fine fuels that exacerbate wildfire risks, especially during hot, dry, windy days. The Sawmill fire of 2017 perfectly encapsulates this cluster of conditions (see wildfire report). The warm and dry weather also produces dry and dusty conditions that prompt ongoing health and safety concerns such as dust exposure and traffic visibility.
El Niño Southern Oscillation: Current forecasts suggest ENSO-neutral conditions will continue through the spring and early summer, with approximately equal chances of an El Niño event or ENSO-neutral conditions during the second half of 2017.
Precipitation & Temperature Forecast: The May 18 NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for June calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation for most of the Southwest, and increased chances of above-average temperatures across the region. The three-month outlook for June through August calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation in Arizona and much of New Mexico with only the northeast corner of New Mexico expecting increased chances of above-average precipitation (Fig. 6, top). Increased chances of above-average temperatures are forecast for the entire southwestern region (Fig. 6, bottom).
In the May 2017 episode of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Podcast - Zack Guido is back and sits down with Mike Crimmins to do a recap of the winter that was (or in some ways, wasn't), the current and recent conditions in the Southwest (including fire weather and fire conditions), and a look forward to what we can expect from the "fire and brimstone" season that is already building (with just a hint of a monsoon discussion to keep Zack feeling sane).
In this mini-episode of the SW Climate podcast, Mike Crimmins and Ben McMahan take a quick spin around the "snow-eater" temps of March, plus a brief comment on fire conditions. As a note: this was recorded before the SawMill Fire started in late April, so the discussion is on March conditions, and some commentary on early April Fire events (Shovel, Molino Basin). it might seem obvious now, but around 8 minutes in, but Mike hits the conditions that led to the SawMill fire pretty nicely. We'll have a full length podcast next week with Mike and Zack.
Forecasts favor a continuation of above-average temperatures in the Rio Grande/Bravo Basin through July.
Se pronostican de temperaturas por arriba de la media en la Cuenca del Río Grande | Bravo hasta julio.
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Precipitation & Temperature: March precipitation totals were average to below average in most of the Southwest except for the northeastern corner of New Mexico (Fig. 1a). March temperatures were much-above average across the entire Southwest, with record warm temperatures in the southeast corner of Arizona and most of New Mexico (Fig. 1b). April precipitation to date has been below average for much of southern Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 2), while April temperatures have been between 0 and 6 degrees above normal for most of the region. Water year precipitation has been normal to above normal for most of Arizona and New Mexico, aside from a dry region along much of the Arizona-Mexico border (Fig. 3).
Snowpack & Water Supply: Warm temperatures across the West (particularly in the Upper Colorado River Basin) have begun to put a dent in the snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) values this month, especially in warmer low-elevation areas. Most of the stations in Arizona and New Mexico have dipped to below 50 percent of normal SWE, a decline that is also reflected in the Upper Colorado River Basin region of Utah and Colorado (Fig. 4). Snowpack and SWE remain markedly above average in other locations in the West, particularly in much of the Great Basin and the Sierras in CA. The persistent warm temperatures of early 2017 combined with the ample snowpack are resulting in similarly remarkable streamflow forecasts, as well as improvements in reservoir storage values (see reservoir levels).
Drought: While much of the West has seen improvements in drought conditions (notably, California declared an end to its drought), southern Arizona and New Mexico have experienced an increase in drought designation, especially near the borderlands, owing to near-record- to record-warm temperatures and very little precipitation in the last few months (Fig. 5). Thus the wetter-than-normal conditions that helped reduce drought conditions across much of the West (see Fig. 3), provided only short-lived recovery in southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Environmental Health & Safety: The impressive wildflower bloom has continued, fueled by a combination of fall and early-winter precipitation and sustained warm temperatures over the last few months. These conditions have also resulted in a particularly bad year for allergies, with sustained growing periods leading to high pollen levels across the region. The warm and dry weather continues to produce dry and dusty conditions, again resulting in numerous closures of interstate highways when dust conditions are severe. The temperature and precipitation patterns of the past six months have also contributed to elevated levels of fine fuels, so with temperatures on the rise and precipitation on the wane, fire managers will continue to keep watch very carefully, especially on days when high winds and low dew-point temperatures create conditions favorable for fire ignition and spread.
El Niño Southern Oscillation: Current forecasts suggest ENSO-neutral conditions continuing through the spring and early summer, with increasing chance of an El Niño event during the second half of 2017 (see ENSO Tracker).
Precipitation & Temperature Forecast: The April 20 NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for April calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation, and increased chances of above-average temperatures across the region. The three-month outlook for May through July calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation in most of Arizona and increased chance of above-average precipitation in New Mexico and the remainder of Arizona (Fig. 6, top), along with increased chances of above-average temperatures across the region (Fig. 6, bottom).
Precipitation & Temperature: February precipitation totals were average to above average in Arizona and ranged from below to above average in New Mexico (Fig. 1a). February temperatures were much-above average across most of region, including record warmest temperatures in eastern New Mexico (Fig. 1b). March precipitation to date has been dry across the Southwest, reversing the wet trends of early winter (Fig. 2a). March temperatures have also been above average across the Southwest (Fig. 2b), including a run of near-record temperatures at the time of this writing. Water-year precipitation and temperature are both above average across much of the Southwest (Fig. 3).
Snowpack & Water Supply: After an impressive run of storms during January and February, activity has tapered and temperatures continue to rise. Snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) are both generally well-above average across much of the Intermountain West (Fig. 4). The extent to which persistent above-average temperatures affect water storage dynamics across the West (e.g., rain vs. snow, storage, evaporation, runoff, infiltration, etc.) remains to be seen, although streamflow forecasts remain optimistic for above-average flow. Water managers and drought experts are keeping a close watch on potential changes to streamflow timing given its possible implications for water storage, ecology, and drought.
Drought: The storms this winter (and since the water year began on Oct. 1) have resulted in a significant scaling back of drought designations across most of the West. California in particular has seen marked improvement. Southern Arizona (extending into Southern California) and northeastern New Mexico have the remaining pockets of drought in the Southwest, designated as either abnormally dry (D0) or in moderate drought (D1) (Fig. 5). It is important to note that while short-term events have scaled back drought designations, the Southwest has been in drought for most of the last 15 years, so it remains to be seen if this recovery holds and brings long-term improvements to reservoir storage, agricultural and range conditions, wildfire risk, and ecological drought.
Environmental Health & Safety: Fall and winter precipitation led to an explosion of wildflowers in the Southwest, fed by above-average precipitation over much of fall and winter, and boosted by recent above-average temperatures. Pollen levels are also up, and most allergy sufferers will feel the effects from a wide range of pollen sources. A few severe dust events have already resulted in interstate closures, and if warm and dry conditions persist, this could lead to increased dust and particulate matter. The wet fall and winter combined with rapid warming this spring also favors increased production of fine fuels that can carry fire. Current outlooks identify increased fire risk for portions of New Mexico, but fire managers will pay close attention to seasonal weather conditions throughout the region to watch for events or conditions that amplify fire risk.
El Niño Southern Oscillation: With La Niña in the rear-view mirror, forecasts are currently looking towards a possible El Niño event later in 2017. Most forecasts and models call for ENSO-neutral conditions to last through at least spring 2017 (and likely into summer) with a possible return of El Niño conditions in fall 2017 (for more details see ENSO Tracker).
Precipitation & Temperature Forecast: The March 16 NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for April calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation, and increased chances of above-average temperatures across the region. Likewise, the three-month outlook for April through June calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation (Fig. 6, top) and increased chances of above-average temperatures (Fig. 6, bottom).