Record Temperatures Spare Rim

Planet’s warmest year paradoxically fills reservoirs


Although 2010 is on pace to become the hottest year on record for the planet, here in desert-plagued Arizona we’re doing just fine, thank you — especially here in the high country where some record-breaking

January storms continue to provide enough snowmelt to keep reservoirs filled to the brim.

At the moment, Payson’s rainfall total is running 37 percent above of the 30-year average for the January-May period — 10.85 inches compared to the 7.9-inch average.

However, it barely rained in March or April or May — and we’re heading now into normally bone-dry June.

Still, the continuing El Niño surface warming in the east Pacific should produce strong monsoons in July and August, when the region normally gets half its rain. That stands in contrast to the rest of the planet, now well into the hottest year in recorded history.

The National Climate Data Center and NASA reported in late May that the planet’s temperature for January-April averaged 56 degrees — 1.24 degrees above the average for the 20th century. That’s the hottest year in 131 years — which is as long as they’ve been keeping records.

The global heat wave has spurred all kinds of oddball weather — including the drenching winter storms in Rim Country.

The same strange patterns have affected other portions of North America, including record snowfalls in Washington, D.C., to the hottest year ever for New England and the coldest year on record in Florida.

Globally, Canada, Alaska, the eastern U.S., Australia, south Asia and northern Africa and northern Russia have all been setting heat records. By contrast, cooler-than-normal temperatures have settled in over the western U.S., Mongolia, Argentina, China and far eastern Russia, according to NASA and the National Climate Data Center.

Likewise, although North America as a whole had the smallest April snowpack on record, Rim Country and the White Mountains actually enjoyed a much better than normal snowpack.

Consider the runoff and reservoir figures kept daily by the Salt River Project.

As of late May, the Salt and Verde rivers were carrying about twice the normal runoff — as is Tonto Creek. Some 839 cubic feet per second were flowing into Roosevelt Lake and the Verde River reservoirs, compared to the normal 465 cubic feet per second, according to SRP’s daily water report. That’s a little more than half the flow of two weeks before.

So, despite the skimpy rainfall totals of the past two months, nearly all of SRP’s reservoirs remain 93 percent full — with the massive Roosevelt Lake remaining at 99 percent, or 1.6 million acre-feet.


Tom Brossart/Roundup

Roosevelt Lake remains full, despite a dry spring and record temperatures globally.

An acre-foot is enough water to supply a family of five for about a year. Residents of Payson use about 1,800 acre-feet annually.

The reservoirs along the Colorado River testify more accurately to the weird variation in rainfall and snowpack — as well as the lingering impact of a decade-long drought interrupted at least momentarily by this year’s short, wet winter.

Along the Colorado River, massive Lake Mead remains only 41 percent full. It has a surface area of 88,000 acres, compared to Roosevelt’s 21,000. Lake Powell remains at 57 percent of its capacity, with a surface area of 161,000 acres. Lake Havasu, on the other hand, is 97 percent full, although it has a surface area a little smaller than Roosevelt Lake.

Still, after 10 years of drought, most of Arizona remains out of drought for the moment, according to the U.S. Weather Service’s drought monitor.

All of Gila County is considered in normal drought conditions. Only the high plains of Arizona centered on Apache and Navajo reservations remain in the grip of moderate to severe drought.

Currently, 63 percent of Arizona isn’t in drought at all, compared to only 17 percent a year ago.

Still, don’t expect more than a trace of rain until sometime in July, when a shift in the high-altitude jet stream will hopefully drag wet storms in from the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of California and the Pacific to break against the barrier of the Mogollon Rim.

Normally, Payson gets .66 of an inch in May and .37 of an inch in June, before the monsoons deliver two or three inches in July and a similar total in August. Normally, Payson gets about 22 inches a year — nearly three times as much as Phoenix less than 100 miles south.


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