La Niña threatens Arizona’s two-year “snowpack party”

Despite recent wet winters, Arizona faces a hot, dry summer and below-average water year due to an impending La Niña.
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  • National Weather Service predicts strong La Niña conditions.
  • Drier-than-normal months expected in the Southwest.
  • Drought Interagency Coordinating Group recommends continuing Drought Emergency Declaration.
  • Arizona has had a Drought Emergency Declaration since 1999.
  • Despite recent wet years, La Niña could bring below-average water years and warmer temperatures.

May 24, 2024 — A report issued by the Arizona Department of Water ResourcesOpens in a new tab. yesterday suggests that the Southwest may face a dry spell after two consecutive seasons of abundant moisture, including a near-record 2022-2023 winter snowpack. The National Weather Service’s lead forecaster, Mark O’Malley, warns of a strong “La Niña” condition in the eastern Pacific Ocean, signaling drier months ahead and marking the end of “the snowpack party,” as characterized by the Department of Water Resources.

Drought Declaration Recommended.

O’Malley presented his findings at a Drought Interagency Coordinating Group (ICG) meeting, an advisory body to the Governor on Arizona. The ICG, comprising state, federal, and non-governmental organizations, meets biannually to assess drought conditions and make recommendations. Given the La Niña forecast, they have unanimously recommended continuing Arizona’s Drought Emergency Declaration, which has been in effect since 1999.

O’Malley expressed confidence in the model projections, statingOpens in a new tab., “We’re seeing fairly good agreement in models. Normally we see uncertainty. We see that July, August, and September will be dipping into La Niña, and in the fall, we’ll be falling into a full La Niña state.” He further noted an “80 percent chance of a full La Niña in 2024-2025 Winter,” with the odds favoring above-normal temperatures.

Arizona Long Term Drought Map - DWR
Arizona Long-Term Drought Map, Source: Arizona Department of Water ResourceOpens in a new tab.s

Hot Summer Ahead.

The Phoenix area has a 60 percent chance of above-normal temperatures this summer, a trend observed across the south-central part of the state. O’Malley said, “Last summer was quite warm, and there is no sign of this slowing down anytime soon.”

Silver Lining.

While the overall outlook is concerning, there is a silver lining. Arizona can expect a “fairly average monsoon” in terms of rainfall. However, a La Niña winter typically results in below-average water years and warmer temperatures, raising concerns about the region’s long-term water security.

Deborah

Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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