This year’s super-strong El Niño has not vanished, but the heavy rain it promised to bring to Southern Arizona has yet to materialize.
February dried up and blew away after 28 rainless days. The dry spell is expected to end Monday after five more days of record-breaking heat, caused by a ridge of high-pressure that has dominated our weather for the past four weeks.
The month managed only one day of rain — 0.18 inches on Feb. 1.
The month set six high-temperature records and will go into the books tied with 1957 as the second-warmest February in Tucson. Last year was the only warmer one, according to a climate report compiled by John Glueck of the National Weather Service in Tucson.
At the end of meteorological winter — the months of December, January and February — we stand deficient in rainfall, despite a continuing strong El Niño, the ocean-warming phenomenon that generally produces wetter winters in the southern tier of states.
The winter rainfall total was 2.18; more than half an inch less than normal.
We still have a shot at making up some of that deficit and the current forecast calls for a good soaking, starting Monday.
“After more than a month off, the first half of next week is looking more and more favorable for an increased chance of mountain snow and valley rain,” said Jim Meyer, lead forecaster for the Tucson office of the National Weather Service.
Monday brings “light precipitation chances,” with more significant rain and snow on Tuesday and Wednesday, Meyer said.
“The overall pattern is finally changing.”
Rain totals have been disappointing this winter, said Mike Crimmins of the University of Arizona’s Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS).
Crimmins hopes next week’s rain signals salvation of a wet year in the early spring months. “Isn’t it interesting how low the bar has fallen? Even the hint of rain is something to get happy about.”
Additional storms are needed to replenish a snowpack depleted by weeks of abnormally warm weather, Crimmins said.
“At the end of January on the (Mogollon) Rim, sites were at 100-to-150 percent of normal. Four weeks later, we’re down in the 30-to-50 percent range.”
Continued warm. dry weather would produce scary conditions for the late spring fire season, he said. That’s the fear, but not the prediction.
Forecasters are citing increased chances of above-average precipitation for the coming months. “The models are hinting at it,” said Crimmins. “El Niño is trying to muscle its way back into our weather picture.”