Surprisingly wet winter pulls most of Arizona out of drought conditions

Mar 4, 2023, 7:15 AM
A Salt River Project team samples the snowpack in Happy Jack, between Payson and Flagstaff, on Feb....
A Salt River Project team samples the snowpack in Happy Jack, between Payson and Flagstaff, on Feb. 28, 2023. (Salt River Project Photo)
(Salt River Project Photo)

PHOENIX — Three months ago, all of Arizona was experiencing some level of drought conditions.

Thanks to a surprisingly wet winter, the situation has changed significantly.

“Almost all of Arizona is now out of drought, and that’s nice. … That’s something that we want to have now,” climatologist Randy Cerveny, a professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Wednesday.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of Arizona was classified as “abnormally dry” or worse on Nov. 29 of last year.

That was down to 32% at the end of February, meaning 2/3 of the state was no longer experiencing drought conditions.

The change is welcome but surprising, Cerveny said. Forecasters were anticipating a dry winter in the Southwest because of La Niña conditions — cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures — in the Pacific Ocean.

“I guess nature decided to throw the rule book out the window and gave us this, which we really need,” he said.

Flagstaff Pulliam Airport has seen more than 140 inches of snow this season, the most at this point since 1949 and second on the list for 101 years of recorded data, according to the National Weather Service.

Snowfall is important for water storage, Cerveny said.

“It’s the water from snowmelt that fills up our reservoirs. So, this is just a win-win situation for us,” he said.

“We’re getting the water to help with agriculture, but we’re also going to be substantially doing some good work for the reservoirs, as well.”

Cervany cautioned that one wet season isn’t a cure-all for the state’s water situation.

“To really get us into a good situation, [to] start filling up Lake Mead and this type of thing, we would need to have several years of this,” he said.

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Surprisingly wet winter pulls most of Arizona out of drought conditions