Phoenix is in the midst of the fourth driest winter on record, as a 21-year drought worsens its grip across the state, the National Weather Service announced today. This week, nearly 90 percent of the state was deemed to be in severe or extreme drought conditions, up from 84 percent last week and just 4 percent three months ago.
The extreme drought conditions are “expanding rapidly,” said Mark O’Malley, a climate and drought specialist with the NWS Phoenix office. And with the dry season approaching, recovery to anything near normal has been deemed impossible for this year.
In North Phoenix, a normal year brings more than 6 inches of rain in the six-month period of October through March, as measured at Deer Valley Airport. This year, just 1 inch has fallen. The totals have been similarly meager in other locations:
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- New River: 1.9 inches
- Desert Hills: 1.6 inches
- Anthem: 1.3 inches
- Tramonto: 1.2 inches
- Sonoran Foothills: 1.3 inches
- Norterra Area: 1.1 inches
- Sky Harbor Airport: 1.0 inches (4th driest winter)
“A persistent dry pattern has mostly remained locked in place over the Southwest since the autumn months with only an occasional beneficial storm system,” O’Malley said. “Precipitation amounts for the Water Year 2017-18 (since Oct 1st) have been paltry.”
Winter precipitation is vital to the state.
“This is typically a wet period for the region, especially across the mountains of northern and eastern Arizona where snowpack is accumulated and refills reservoirs in the spring,” O’Malley said today. “Regional precipitation deficits have grown substantially, especially with respect to high elevation snow; and it will be impossible to recover to near normal levels before the dry spring season becomes fully established.”
Meanwhile, as North Phoenix News first reported in September, local aquifers have dropped notably over the past two decades, and some wells in New River and Desert Hills have gone dry. Experts expect that the local, disjointed and shallow aquifer to continue dropping.
The long-range climate forecast call for a strong chance of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures through May. Higher temperatures have exacerbated the drought conditions, O’Malley said. Daily temperature data for Sky Harbor Airport show a warm pattern so far this winter.
The drought extends across much of the Southwest. The chart below shows the Percent of normal precipitation since Oct. 1.