Oh me, oh me, oh my.
Say it ain’t so.
Arizona’s slipping back into drought, thanks to the sputter of the monsoon, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Almost the entire state has gone from a wonderfully wet winter to “abnormally dry,” with the specter of the drought leering over our shoulders like a ghost in the mirror.
So we’re at the tail end of the monsoon now, but we’ve got fires smoldering around the state. Reservoirs have dropped from their heartening, full-up condition at the end of the spring runoff season.
Still, there’s hope the dry monsoon won’t portend an equally dry winter. In fact, the Farmer’s Almanac — which called last year’s bountiful winter — predicts we’ll have another wet, cold winter, relying on a secret weather formula.
However, the National Weather Service remains glum, according to the latest posting on the drought monitor — which shows “moderate drought” in the northeast corner of the state — including most of Apache and Navajo counties north of the White Mountains. A chunk of the state along the Colorado River has also slipped back into drought.
Most of the rest of the state remains merely “abnormally dry,” including all of Gila County and the White Mountain portions of Navajo and Apache counties. Only a chunk of the state right along the Mexico border had enough monsoon rain to qualify as “normal.”
The Arizona State Climate Office notes that Arizona technically remains in drought, with only eight “normal” or wetter than normal rainfall years in the past 21.
Most reservoirs in the Southwest are only about half full, with projections calling for the likely rationing of water from the giant Lake Mead in coming months.
The current drought exceeds the 20-year drought in about 1276 that many experts blame in some measure for the collapse of the Hohokam civilization and a network of connected cultures throughout the region.
Still, even one wet winter provides a vital cushion for years at a time. Roosevelt Lake is still 66 percent full, with about half a million usable acre-feet in storage. However, the inflow to the reservoir is only about 47 percent of average this week and the flow in the Verde River about 59 percent of average. Tonto Creek has dried up before reaching Roosevelt.
But don’t give up on skiing this winter just yet — despite the ebbing of a sea surface warming trend dubbed “El Niño,” which last year produced our wet winter.
“Although El Niño has decayed,” said the U.S. Drought Monitor website, “there are some weak signals that the next could be wetter than average across the state. However, above normal rainfall may not amount to a substantial accumulation as Arizona enters a drier time of year.”
Both the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the spinoff Farmers’ Almanac hold out hope.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts “showery” weather throughout the Southwest this year, with low temperatures and “deep powder” for skiers.
The Farmers’ Almanac predicts a cool winter with “normal” precipitation.
Both magazines keep their formula for seasonal predictions a secret, but both say that the presence of “sun spots” plays a role. These are cooler areas on the surface of the sun caused by disruptions in the star’s magnetic field.
And while we’re on the subject of the sun, some experts say solar activity is heading into what’s called the Maunder Minimum, signaled by sun spot patterns. The temporary decline in the sun’s energy output is generally blamed for the “Little Ice Age,” when global temperatures dipped by about 1 degree centigrade between 500 and 150 years ago.
Climate scientists are arguing over the signs of minor solar cooling and the likely overall effect. Some argue the effect will be overwhelmed by the effect of the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Others predict a global cooling could have bigger impacts than the projected global warming.
But in the meantime, fires continue to burn throughout the state as we slide back toward drought conditions.
Wildfires burning this week include the 350-acre Telephone Fire near Pinetop, the 21,000-acre Sheridan Fire near Prescott and the three fires near Flagstaff, including the 1,200-acre Eden Fire, the 105-acre Whiskey Fire and the 3,300-acre Saber Fire.