Madeline Ackley Arizona Republic (CNT) City News And Talk
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Arizonans might have noticed a conspicuous lack of thunderstorms and rainfall this summer. That’s because Arizona has just experienced its driest monsoon season on record with an average of just 1.51 inches of rainfall across the state.
It’s not a coincidence that it was also one of the hottest summers on record.
Typically, monsoon season in Arizona lasts between the months of June and September, bringing “us our cool relief,” in the hot summer months, said Nancy Selover, state climatologist at the Arizona State Climate Office. The longterm average rainfall in the state is 5.37 inches.
“Those thunderstorms tend to cool the temperatures down when they happen … and when that doesn’t happen we end up staying hotter,” she said.
Selover calls monsoon seasons that don’t produce much rain “dry monsoons,” and 2020 was the second consecutive “dry” year in a row.
Multiple years of dry monsoons can have serious effects on people and Arizona’s wildlands. The precipitation that normally comes during the monsoon season is what waters rangeland grasses that supply food for Arizona’s wild animals.
‘NONSOONS’: No rain in the forecast for metro Phoenix as monsoon season concludes.
A dry monsoon could impact the state’s wildfire season, possibly extending it.
Selover worries the dry summer will be followed by a drier-than-average winter, exacerbating the current drought. She doesn’t have much hope for that much-needed “wet winter”– it’s a La Niña year, a weather event that tends to create warmer temperatures in the Southwest, according to the National Ocean Service website.
Next summer’s forecast: ‘anything’s possible’
Just because the past couple of years have been dry, does not necessarily mean next year will be, too.
“Other than the last two years, I wouldn’t say there’s any obvious long-term trend,” said Derek Hodges, a weather forecaster at the National Weather Service in Phoenix.
Arizona tends to experience “clusters of years” with high precipitation levels and those with low precipitation levels like the past two years. Hodges referenced a four year stretch between 2011 and 2015, and another period in 2017, when Arizona experienced above-normal precipitation levels during monsoon season, and several consecutive dry years in the early 2000s.
Connecting weather events or even seasons to climate change is difficult, but the National Weather Service expects “summers will gradually become warmer,” Hodges said.
Climate scientists also predict “extended periods of droughts” in the future, but when the rains do finally come, “it’ll rain much harder than before,” Hodges said.