Both winter and summer of 2015 were wetter than in 2014, however, similar to last year, snow accumulation was well below normal across most of the state. While the drought appears to be easing, it is not over. More than two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry or in moderate drought, reservoirs are only approximately half full, and every Arizona county had a disaster designation during water year 2015. It will take several years of above average precipitation to break the grip of the drought that is approaching 21 years.
Strong El Niño conditions are currently in place and will most likely continue into the spring. This means there may be more rain and more rainfall days than usual. Mountain snowfall, however, may or may not be above average.
The current Colorado River reservoir system storage stands at 51% of capacity as of November 8, 2015, approximately the same as last year. The forecast shows a 0% chance of a shortage declaration in 2016 and an 18% chance in 2017. The Salt and Verde reservoirs remain at the same levels as this time last year, approximately 49% full.
Due to the moist conditions, water year 2015 was a light year for fires. However, the above average rainfall has resulted in an abundance of continuous fine fuels in general across the state which could potentially lead to a busy wildfire season, depending on weather patterns in late spring. Extreme fire danger continues to be a threat in forests due to the extreme density of trees.
The impact of drought on range and farmland resulted in disaster designations for all counties in the state. Drought conditions affected dryland farming and irrigation water supply resulting in crop loss, reduced rangeland water supply, and reduced forage supply.
Based on this information, the ICG unanimously recommended that both drought declarations be kept in place:
- Drought Emergency Declaration (PCA 99006) has been in effect since June 1999 and maintains the state’s ability to provide emergency response if needed. It also enables farmers and ranchers to obtain funding assistance through the Farm Service Agency if they experience production losses due to drought.
- The Drought Declaration for the State of Arizona (Executive Order 2007-10) was issued in May 2007 to raise awareness of Arizona’s continuing long-term drought and encourage conservation.
- 2015 Drought Status Update & Activities of the Drought Monitoring Technical Committee (MTC). Nancy Selover, State climatologist, ASU faculty and co-chair of the MTC
- Winter 2015-2016 Weather Outlook & El Niño Update. Mark O’Malley, Lead forecaster and climate specialist, NWS and co-chair of the MTC
- Colorado River Basin Water Supply Update. Tom Buschatzke, Director, Arizona Department of Water Resources
- 2015 Wildfire Summary and 2016 Outlook. Jeff Whitney, State forester, Arizona State Forestry
- Forest & Woodland Health Update. Bob Celaya, Forest health specialist, Arizona State Forestry
- Disaster Designations Related to Drought. Ryan Hunt, GIS specialist, USDA Farm Service Agency
Although Arizona's long-term drought status has improved somewhat from one year ago, most of the state continues to experience moderate to severe drought. The only drought-free area is in the southwestern part of the state. There is a very slight chance of warmer and wetter weather over much of the state this coming summer. The outlook for next winter calls for equal chances that temperatures will be above, below or near normal and only a very slight chance of above normal precipitation.
The current Colorado River reservoir system storage stands at 47% of total system capacity, and levels are expected to drop due to minimal run-off and dry conditions. The US Bureau of Reclamation’s April projections show a 33% probability of a Tier 1 shortage in the Lower Basin for 2016 and a 75% probability for a Tier 1 shortage in 2017. The Salt and Verde reservoir level remain at approximately 57% of normal due to increased use of groundwater to meet demand.
Fire potential and fuels will have to be carefully monitored as they respond to the typically hot, dry weather in June, changes in drought conditions, and the potential for multiple lightening outbreaks during the monsoon season. There are areas with higher than normal fine fuel loads from two previous monsoon seasons and recent winter/spring moisture.
Combined Presentations- May 5, 2015 ICG Meeting
- Drought Status Update and Activities of the Monitoring Technical Committee - Nancy Selover, Arizona State University,
- Summer 2014 Outlook and Winter 2015-16 Preview - Mark O’Malley, National Weather Service
- Colorado River Water Supply Update -Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources
- Salt & Verde Watersheds- Water Supply Update - James Walter, Salt River Project
- Wildfire Outlook -Jeff Whitney, Arizona State Forestry
- Update on California Drought - Chris Harris, California Colorado River Board