The University of Arizona

Monthly Archive | CLIMAS

Monthly Archive

Notes from an Applied Climatologist: Monsoon & El Niño Q&A

Thursday, July 31, 2014

 

Is the strong start to the monsoon related to El Niño?

In short? Probably not. Research on the interactions between El Niño events and the North American Monsoon System actually suggests the opposite, with past El Niño events slowing the onset of monsoon precipitation across the Southwest U.S.  

This year, when compared to records of average dewpoints across Arizona and New Mexico, the monsoon moved in right on time.  It was ushered in by surges of moisture that moved up the Gulf of California into the desert Southwest, several of which were triggered by tropical storms and hurricanes in the eastern Pacific that flourished in highly favorable conditions, including light upper level winds and very warm ocean water.  These conditions are not necessarily related to El Niño, as conditions that favor an El Niño event have largely been absent in the atmosphere, with only glimmers of a favorable pattern in the sea surface temperatures across the eastern Pacific Ocean. The fact that the current El Niño has been struggling to form may also be the reason we had a relatively "normal" start to the monsoon.

More precipitation maps at http://cals.arizona.edu/climate/misc/monsoon/az_monsoon.html

 

What can we expect from the monsoon (in AZ & NM) with El Niño waiting in the wings?

Research on the interactions between El Niño and the North American Monsoon System suggest that the impact of El Niño is largely observed early in the season, primarily in the months of June and July. This means that even with an El Niño (probably) forming later this summer, its direct impact on the monsoon will likely be minimal.

An indirect effect continues to be the very favorable tropical storm and hurricane conditions in the eastern Pacific related in part to the struggling El Niño event. With more tropical storm activity in the eastern Pacific there is an elevated chance that one of these storms will curve back to the east and visit the Southwest, especially later in August and September. Some of the floods of record across Arizona and New Mexico are related to late monsoon season tropical storms curving back through the Southwest.


Michael Crimmins is an Associate Professor and Climate Science Extension Specialist in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science

1075' - Shortage on the Colorado River Ep. 3 - Shortage Impacts on the CAP

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lake Mead from the Hoover Dam - Source: Wikipedia Commons

1075’ – Shortage on the Colorado River is a CLIMAS podcast series that explores what the first ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River would mean to those living in the Southwest. 

1075 refers to the elevation of Lake Mead – in feet above sea level – that serves as the trigger for shared shortage restrictions[1]. While this has never happened before[2], after years of drought and ever-increasing demands on the river, the latest projections from the Bureau of Reclamation suggest the lake could drop below 1075[3] as soon as early 2015.

In this series, we attempt to demystify the rules and regulations that govern water use on the Colorado River and discuss what it means to the people and sectors across Arizona when a shortage occurs. This series will explore the opportunities and consequences of a shortage to construct a nuanced view of a complex issue.

  • Episode 3: Shortage Impacts on the Central Arizona Project (Mohammed Mahmoud) - In this episode, CLIMAS climate scientist Zack Guido and Mohammed Mahmoud, planning analyst with the Colorado River Programs department at the Central Arizona Project (CAP), discuss the CAP and its role in delivering Colorado River water throughout Arizona, as well as how a shortage would impact the CAP system.

 


Mohammed Mahmoud is a Planning Analyst II with the Colorado River Programs department at the Central Arizona Project. His educational background includes a B.S. (2001) and M.S. (2003) in Civil Engineering from Michigan Technological University, and a PhD (2008) in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona. Mohammed's primary area of expertise is future planning; especially as related to scenario development for decision-making needs. In his doctoral research, Mohammed developed a formal framework for scenario development aimed at enhancing water resources decision-making. At CAP, Mohammed is engaged in Colorado River water policy issues, climate change activities, and the modeling of water uses within the Colorado River.


[1] Note: Mead elevation falling below 1075' in a given month does not automatically trigger shortage restrictions. The January 1st forecast from the August 24-month study is the Mead elevation value that determines if a Tier 1 Lower Basin shortage will occur. The 24-month study is a monthly report produced by the Bureau of Reclamation to keep track of Colorado River system reservoirs. So even if Lake Mead is forecasted to drop below 1075' in mid-2015, shortage is not declared unless the 2014 August 24-month study forecasts a January 1st Mead elevation at or below 1075'.

[2] Any shortage before 2026 would be the first declared shortage under the 2007 Interim Guidelines. However, there was a shortage declared in 1963/1964 when Lake Powell was filling up. Drought caused low inflows into Lake Mead and deliveries to the Lower Basin were subsequently cut.

[3] The Applied Climate Science Group in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has compiled an impressive array of photos and data relating to the drop in Lake Mead levels - be sure to check it out!

Many thanks to Dr. Mohammed Mahmoud (of the Colorado River Programs / Central Arizona Project) for providing the clarifications in footnotes [1] and [2].

Southwest Climate Podcast: Strong Start for the Monsoon & Groundhog Day for El Niño Forecasts

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In the July Southwest Climate Podcast, CLIMAS climate scientists Zack Guido and Mike Crimmins talk about the solid start to the monsoon, and seemingly inevitable monsoon breaks (like we just experienced). They also discuss the "inevitability" of this fickle El Niño event. There’s a feeling of Groundhog Day with these forecasts—and there continues to be uncertainty regarding the strength and duration of this El Niño event.

 

 

1075' - Shortage on the Colorado River - Podcast Ep. 2 - Stressors on the River

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lake Mead from the Hoover Dam - Source: Wikipedia Commons

1075’ – Shortage on the Colorado River is a CLIMAS podcast series that explores what the first ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River would mean to those living in the Southwest. 

1075 refers to the elevation of Lake Mead – in feet above sea level – that serves as the trigger for shared shortage restrictions[1]. While this has never happened before[2], after years of drought and ever-increasing demands on the river, the latest projections from the Bureau of Reclamation suggest the lake could drop below 1075[3] as soon as early 2015.

In this series, we attempt to demystify the rules and regulations that govern water use on the Colorado River and discuss what it means to the people and sectors across Arizona when a shortage occurs. This series will explore the opportunities and consequences of a shortage to construct a nuanced view of a complex issue.

  • Episode 2: Stressors on the River (B. Colby, G. Frisvold, K. Morino) In this episode, CLIMAS climate scientist Zack Guido hosts three University of Arizona experts, Bonnie Colby, George Frisvold and Kiyomi Morino, to discuss water supply and demand in the Colorado River basin. This podcast explores stressors on the Colorado River Basin, how these stressors may change over time, and how these changes may affect management and behaviors across the Southwest.

Bonnie Colby is a professor in the UA Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.  Some of her current projects involve nonmarket valuation of natural amenities, analyzing transactions costs generated by regulatory policies, evaluating the reallocation of water resources among economic sectors, economic tools to resolve environmental conflicts, and identifying strategies to promote efficient allocation of risk associated with variability in water supply and water quality.

George Frisvold is a professor in the UA Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.  His research interests include the economics of climate change adaptation and mitigation, water resources, renewable energy, agricultural R&D, technology adoption, and agricultural biotechnology.

Kiyomi Morino is a research associate in the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.  Her research is focused on integrating science and policy, particularly with respect to western water issues, and she is working with colleagues to develop novel ways of exploring future climate change impacts on the Colorado River using tree-ring based reconstructions of streamflow. 


[1] Note: Mead elevation falling below 1075' in a given month does not automatically trigger shortage restrictions. The January 1st forecast from the August 24-month study is the Mead elevation value that determines if a Tier 1 Lower Basin shortage will occur. The 24-month study is a monthly report produced by the Bureau of Reclamation to keep track of Colorado River system reservoirs. So even if Lake Mead is forecasted to drop below 1075' in mid-2015, shortage is not declared unless the 2014 August 24-month study forecasts a January 1st Mead elevation at or below 1075'.

[2] Any shortage before 2026 would be the first declared shortage under the 2007 Interim Guidelines. However, there was a shortage declared in 1963/1964 when Lake Powell was filling up. Drought caused low inflows into Lake Mead and deliveries to the Lower Basin were subsequently cut.

[3] The Applied Climate Science Group in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has compiled an impressive array of photos and data relating to the drop in Lake Mead levels - be sure to check it out!

Many thanks to Dr. Mohammed Mahmoud (of the Colorado River Programs / Central Arizona Project) for providing the clarifications in footnotes [1] and [2].

Monsoon Summary (June 15 - July 15)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Originally published in the Southwest Climate Outlook, released the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Sign up for email newsletter version.


Monsoon storms began around July 3 in many parts of southern Arizona. The average onset date of the monsoon in southeast Arizona is between July 1 and 6 (Figure 1). In months that preceded the monsoon, climatologists speculated that a developing El Niño event could delay the onset, an interpretation based on past analogs. This did not occur, in part because the atmosphere has yet to respond to the El Niño, despite warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Pacific Ocean (see El Niño Watch for details). 

Many parts of Arizona received above-average precipitation last month thanks to monsoon rainfall (Figure 2). The spotty nature of the monsoon, however, belies sweeping characterizations that apply to all regions because above- and below-average rainfall is often experienced over short distances not captured by more sparsely located rain gauges. The Prescott area of Arizona, for example, has not yet been doused as much as other areas. Nonetheless, many weather stations in southeastern Arizona have measured above-average rainfall since June 15. These include the Tucson International Airport and airports in Douglas and Nogales, where rain has measured 1.61, 2.59, and 3.4 inches since June 15, respectively. These totals amount to 0.45, 1.01, and 1.14 inches above average, respectively. Sierra Vista logged 4.87 inches of rain—3.36 inches above average. 

Many places around Arizona have felt above-average humidity. This is reflected in dewpoint temperatures, which increase as moisture content in the air increases, across the state. In Tucson, for example, dewpoints often have been above 60 degrees F (Figure 3), as they have in Phoenix and Yuma. These humidity levels indicate that moisture is present and, if other conditions converge, storms will result. The intensity and geographic coverage of the storms, however, also depend in part on atmospheric temperature gradients that enable air to rise, condense, and squeeze out rain, and on the presence of winds aloft that push storms off the mountains. Even if rain does not fall, higher levels of humidity help suppress fire risk, and fire restrictions across the regions are being eased.

While southern Arizona generally has experienced an active monsoon thus far, the opposite story has evolved in southern New Mexico and southwest Texas (Figure 2). El Paso, for example, has only received 0.32 inches of rain, or about 0.8 inches below average. The position of the high pressure system, which has largely been centered north of southeast Arizona, has helped create this juxtaposition. On the western, Arizona side of the system, moisture-laden air has been streaming from the south, whereas dry air has been wafting from the north on the eastern, New Mexican side.

El Niño Watch - July 18, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Originally published in the Southwest Climate Outlook, released the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Sign up for email newsletter version.


The El Niño event that has been anticipated for the past several months continues to suffer from stage fright; it has yet to fully materialize across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Nonetheless, forecasts remain bullish that an El Niño will form in coming months, and consequently the El Niño Watch is still in place. Probabilities that an El Niño will fully materialize this fall and winter reach slightly more than 70 percent, according to the mid-July ENSO forecast issued by the NOAA-Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI; Figure 1). These high probabilities reflect above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTS) in the far eastern Pacific and weak westerly winds in the central Pacific. Belief that this event will evolve into a strong El Niño, however, has lost muster because SSTs have hovered slightly above average and not steadily climbed (Figure 2). In addition, the atmosphere has failed to cooperate in a manner consistent with above-average SSTs. For an El Niño to gain strength, the warming SSTs in the central Pacific need to be accompanied by a subsequent weakening of the easterly trade winds which, in turn, reinforce warm SSTs. The easterly winds have yet to slacken as much as expected.

Nonetheless, the CPC forecast suggests that both the ocean and atmosphere are transitioning to and ultimately will become an El Niño. Feeding this expectation is the observation that convection in the central Pacific has become more organized in recent weeks. This indicates a growing atmospheric connection with the SSTs that could eventually lead to a weakening of the trade winds. Moreover, many of the dynamical forecast models (those that included both ocean and atmosphere dynamics) suggest a rapid warming in the central Pacific during the August–October period, with the El Niño event peaking in mid-winter of 2014 and 2015. Although the ultimate strength and duration remains uncertain, a weak to moderate event appears the most likely outcome, and the CPC notes the possibility for a strong event has diminished greatly in the past several months.

El Niño events tend to bring wetter conditions to the Southwest during the winter (Figure 3), with moderate and strong events delivering higher chances for above-average precipitation. However, if the El Niño event is weak, the precipitation outlook for the upcoming fall and winter becomes more uncertain. The strength and duration of the event should become clearer over the next two months as ocean and atmosphere signals lock in to each other.

Southwest Climate Outlook July 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Originally published in the Southwest Climate Outlook, released the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Sign up for email newsletter version.


Precipitation: June was very dry, with little to no precipitation save for remnant moisture from Hurricane Cristina. An on-time start to the monsoon led to above-average precipitation in the first two weeks of July in parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Since mid-January, most of Arizona and New Mexico have logged less than 50 percent of average precipitation.

Temperature: Most of Arizona and New Mexico were warmer than average in June. The onset of the monsoon around July 3 has driven lower-than-average temperatures across the region.

Water Supply: Total reservoir storage increased by about 1.2 million acre-feet (AF) in Arizona in June. Lake Powell rose by about 1.8 million AF and Lake Mead fell by about 394,000 AF. Storage stands at 47 percent of capacity in Arizona and is lower than it was one year ago (49 percent). In New Mexico, storage decreased by 127,000 AF in June, mostly due to a 137,000 acre-foot drop at Elephant Butte. Storage in New Mexico stands at 23 percent of capacity and is greater than it was one year ago (17 percent). (AZ Reservoir Volumes / NM Reservoir Volumes)

Drought: Moderate to extreme drought continues to cover nearly all of Arizona. More than 72 percent of the state is classified with severe drought while extreme drought covers about 16 percent of the state. Almost all of New Mexico is under moderate to exceptional drought (the highest category), with more than 77 percent of the state designated as severe and over 40 percent designated as extreme drought.

Monsoon: Monsoon storms began in southeastern Arizona around July 3, falling within the historical average onset date range. Precipitation since July 1 has been above average in many parts of southern Arizona but generally below average in southern New Mexico. (monsoon summary - July SW Climate Outlook)

Fire Summary: Between January 1 and July 14, 1,074 wildfires burned 157,497 acres in Arizona and 551 wildfires scorched 20,675 acres in New Mexico. The monsoon has brought much needed moisture and humidity to the region. 

ENSO: ENSO-neutral conditions continue. The probability that an El Niño event will develop is 70 percent, increasing to 80 percent in fall and winter. Most projections, however, remain uncertain as to the overall strength of the event. (El Niño Watch - July SW Climate Outlook)

Precipitation Forecasts: Forecasts point to above-average precipitation for Arizona and New Mexico over the next three months. Given widespread drought conditions, even an average monsoon could help improve drought conditions. 

Temperature Forecasts: Monsoon storm cycles introduce variability into short-term temperature patterns, but the longer-term forecasts call for equal chances for above-, below-, and near-average temperatures. These forecasts are based in part on increasing temperature trends.

Notes From the Field: Thinking Outside the Box with Great Basin Natural Resource Managers

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On June 25-27, 2014, a team of researchers from CLIMAS and the California-Nevada Applications Program (CNAP) convened a workshop at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, NV.  The goal? We wanted to address the complex and uncertain future of Great Basin land management in the Central Great Basin (California and Nevada), and to provide state and federal agency partners with streamlined and purposeful means of incorporating climate change information into land management practice.

In addition to myself, the project team includes:

  • Tamara Wall (CNAP and Desert Research Institute)—a social scientist with a knack for methods and metrics assessing how climate knowledge is communicated, used and applied to environmental hazards
  • Tim Brown (CNAP and Desert Research Institute)—a long-time collaborator with CLIMAS and one of the nation’s leading fire climatologists
  • Holly Hartmann—whose ongoing work on scenario planning and decision support is pivotal for land management agencies such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and
  • Julie Brugger (CLIMAS)—an anthropologist whose work on climate concerns among rural stakeholders and land managers brings in consideration of the social and cultural factors that influence the use of climate information in decision making.

Background

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the vast majority of public land in the Great Basin, and they are interested in practical methods for incorporating climate change information into their on-the-ground practices and operational strategies for land management.

The first phase of our project was funded by the BLM, which is interested in using results from its Rapid Ecoregional Assessments (REA) program in climate adaptation planning, and we put together a workshop to introduce two scenario-planning methods:

  1. Adaptation for Conservation Targets, or ACT, and
  2. Strategic Scenario Planning, or SSP.

We wanted to assess the best uses of these methods, and to learn from workshop participants the best ways to combine these methods for effective planning and implementation of adaptation strategies. Attendees of previous workshops gave feedback that zeroed in on two key ways these methods could be used: some were seen as useful for quick and practical action—a key concern for field managers—while others were seen as more useful in thinking holistically about landscape scale ecosystems—which can assist in long term planning. This split perspective is important and continues to inform our plans to better incorporate REA information into adaptation planning.

Cheatgrass

Our advisory committee suggested that we focus on the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, and turn to the challenge of managing cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Cheatgrass is an invasive species that is viewed as an environmental game changer in the Great Basin, to the point that BLM researcher Mike Pellant calls it “the invader that won the West.

The characteristic red/purple hue of mature cheatgrass is visible across the Great Basin - NV  306 near Beowawe, Nevada - Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Why is cheatgrass such a threat and what does climate change have to do it?  Cheatgrass is drought-tolerant, is a prolific seed producer, and it is successful at outcompeting native vegetation for resources (water).  Not only that, but it thrives in disturbed areas, especially post-fire, but it typically goes dormant and dries out sooner than native plants, meaning it’s presence actually increases the risk of fire.  This means that in the Great Basin, a post-fire landscape can quickly become dominated by cheatgrass, which provides a blanket of dry fuel lying in wait for the next fire.  Once established, it is incredibly difficult to break this cycle.  This threatens the entire sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, beginning with Big Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata)—the centerpiece of the ecosystem’s web of interactions and ecological dependencies—and ending with all the species dependent on the native sagebrush environment ranging from big game species, such as elk and deer, to regionally important species such as Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) not to mention a whole network of related animals including mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds.

Workshop

In preparation for the workshop, the advisory committee and the research team developed a conceptual map of the relationships and interactions between cheatgrass and other factors, such as soil moisture, native vegetation, fire, erosion, grazing practices, energy development, road building and, of course, observed climate variation and projected climate change.

On the first day of the workshop, we used this map to explore the direct and indirect linkages between climate and cheatgrass, and identified points in the system where management could implement strategies in the next decade, to affect the spread of cheatgrass over the next 50 years. This method of addressing future changes is called Adaptation for Conservation Targets, or “ACT” (Cross et al. 2013), and it is used by conservation groups and their partners to quickly develop on-the-ground climate adaptation actions. Through ACT, we focused on aspects of environmental management that managers can actually control.  This is not unlike riding on roller skates through an obstacle course.  You adapt to the obstacles, but you remain connected to the ground.

Holly Hartmann and Tamara Wall Listening to Feedback from Participants.  Photo: Gregg Garfin

On the second day of the workshop, Holly Hartmann introduced Strategic Scenario Planning, or “SSP” (Weeks et al. 2011), which is a method that focuses on factors outside of resource managers’ control, such as regional population growth, laws, the economy, public policy, and climate variability and change. Holly used SSP to help workshop participants develop new ways of thinking about an uncertain future, and for dealing with combinations of highly variable factors—such as changes in winter precipitation, which are critical for cheatgrass growth, and future funding resources, which are critical for implementing projects. The SSP method helps people expand thinking beyond day-to-day actions, to consider how factors may change and interact over time.  This is more akin to learning to surf, you are developing your skill and balance – your ability to adapt and respond to unknown changes, but the ‘ground’ beneath you is constantly shifting and unpredictable.

Holly Hartmann discusses SSP method - Gregg Garfin on Overview of Climate Patterns

By the third day of the workshop, the participants—a great group of highly motivated and dedicated land management professionals from Great Basin state, tribal, and federal agencies—were skating and surfing along.  They provided us with great feedback about using our two adaptation planning methods, and the contrast between the two approaches facilitated a lively and engaging discussion that forced people to consider various overlapping perspectives.

Skating and Surfing Along - The Fruitful Results of Engaged Discussion of ACT/SSP Overlap with Participants - Photo: Gregg Garfin

Lessons Learned

For the researchers, it was amazing to see how the ACT process—which focuses on linear chains of logic to connect climate, environmental change, management opportunities, and management strategies—enabled the workshop group to apply logic statements to the mind-expanding SSP process. The combination was far more powerful.  One workshop participant specifically highlighted the future scenario methods as providing a refreshing contrast to “ready, shoot, aim!” approach that is typical in triage management that simply holds on for dear life dealing with the crisis du jour. Another workshop participant singled out the SSP approach, because it didn’t require everyone to agree on what might happen in the future, but that it encouraged participants to embrace complexity and uncertainty while provoking ideas about how to deal constructively with aspects that are outside of managers’ control.

Our research team is reviewing and refining reports describing the lessons learned at the workshop, but we are also preparing for the next phase of our project (funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA). Our next step is to organize a working group taken from workshop participants, who are quickly becoming experts in using the REA, to develop a framework for integrating the REA into both ACT and SSP processes. A new national-level dataset on BLM lands offers us the opportunity to inform how the REA data can be used in climate change adaptation planning and management implementation.

Future

We have a webinar planned for October 2014 to build out the scenario sets developed in the June workshop.  We plan to hold a second workshop in November to apply the ACT and SSP processes to strategic management planning. This is an ongoing learning process of how to use multiple scenario methods, individually and in concert, and in the near future, we will incorporate the rich array of future climate and ecological projections from the BLM’s REA studies. We are hopeful that many of the attendees from the first workshop will join us in November, and we anticipate an infusion of ideas from new attendees on how we can best start planning for the future in the Great Basin Region. 

The project website contains information about the project and the workshop described in this posting.


Gregg Garfin is Deputy Director for Science Translation & Outreach, Institute of the Environment, and Associate Professor and Associate Extension Specialist in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Tamara Wall is Assistant Research Professor, Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV

1075' - Shortage on the Colorado River, A CLIMAS Podcast Series

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lake Mead from the Hoover Dam - Source: Wikipedia Commons

1075’ – Shortage on the Colorado River is a CLIMAS podcast series that explores what the first ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River would mean to those living in the Southwest. 

1075 refers to the elevation of Lake Mead – in feet above sea level – that serves as the trigger for shared shortage restrictions[1]. While this has never happened before[2], after years of drought and ever-increasing demands on the river, the latest projections from the Bureau of Reclamation suggest the lake could drop below 1075[3] as soon as early 2015.

In this series, we attempt to demystify the rules and regulations that govern water use on the Colorado River and discuss what it means to the people and sectors across Arizona when a shortage occurs. This series will explore the opportunities and consequences of a shortage to construct a nuanced view of a complex issue.

  • Episode 1: Management of the Colorado River (Doug Kenney) - In this episode, we take a broad view of the Colorado River Basin, exploring how the river is managed, who uses the water, and what a potential shortage could mean for the system. Our guest is Doug Kenney, Director of the Western Water Policy Program, a division of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, at the University of Colorado School of Law.

Douglas S. Kenney’s Bio:
Doug Kenney is Director of the Western Water Policy Program, a division of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado School of Law. He researches and writes extensively on several water-related issues, including law and policy reform, river basin and watershed-level planning, the design of institutional arrangements, water resource economics, and alternative strategies for solving complex resource issues. Dr. Kenney has served as a consultant to a variety of local, state, multi-state, and federal agencies, including several Interior Department agencies, EPA, the US Forest Service, and special commissions (e.g., the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission); and national governments and non-governmental organizations in Asia and Africa. Additionally, he has made presentations in (at least) 19 states (and the District of Columbia), 7 nations, and 4 continents.


[1] Note: Mead elevation falling below 1075' in a given month does not automatically trigger shortage restrictions. The January 1st forecast from the August 24-month study is the Mead elevation value that determines if a Tier 1 Lower Basin shortage will occur. The 24-month study is a monthly report produced by the Bureau of Reclamation to keep track of Colorado River system reservoirs. So even if Lake Mead is forecasted to drop below 1075' in mid-2015, shortage is not declared unless the 2014 August 24-month study forecasts a January 1st Mead elevation at or below 1075'.

[2] Any shortage before 2026 would be the first declared shortage under the 2007 Interim Guidelines. However, there was a shortage declared in 1963/1964 when Lake Powell was filling up. Drought caused low inflows into Lake Mead and deliveries to the Lower Basin were subsequently cut.

[3] The Applied Climate Science Group in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has compiled an impressive array of photos and data relating to the drop in Lake Mead levels - be sure to check it out!

Many thanks to Dr. Mohammed Mahmoud (of the Colorado River Programs / Central Arizona Project) for providing the clarifications in footnotes [1] and [2].

Notes from an Applied Climatologist - June 2014 Rainlog Climate Summary

Thursday, July 10, 2014

June was a hot and dry month across Arizona with little in the way of precipitation and lots in the way of wind and extreme fire weather. This isn’t all that unusual for June in Arizona, but temperatures were exceptionally warm and passing weather systems brought unwelcome wind which periodically enhanced fire danger to extreme levels. The weather pattern throughout the month was a battle between the strengthening sub-tropical high to our south and late season spring storm pushing through the Southwest from the north. Several of these storms pushed through the western U.S. tightening the pressure gradient across Arizona leading to several days of gusty, hot and dry southwest winds across the region. 

One passing storm system did manage to pull up some soupy tropical air that pushed north through Mexico with the help of hurricane Cristina. The only substantial precipitation recorded by Rainloggers across the state during June occurred on the 13th across the far southeast corner of the state. Several lucky observers in Cochise County recorded precipitation amounts of 0.1 to 0.3 inches on the 13th as isolated thunderstorms moved across the area.
 
Overall, the month was unusually hot and dry conditions with no improvements in short-term drought conditions observed across the region. The Tucson National Weather Service Office reported that June 2014 was the 3rd hottest on record and the U.S. Drought Monitor still has all of Arizona under moderate to extreme drought. The monsoon is in full swing which should help alleviate some short-term drought impacts and reduce fire danger across the region. An El Nino event is still trying to get its act together across the Pacific Ocean which may also spell above-average precipitation for the Southwest later this fall and winter.

Climate Change Scenario Planning in Central New Mexico

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reporting on Future Regional Climate and Related Impacts for the Central New Mexico Climate Change Scenario Planning Project

Similar to many other metropolitan areas in the western United States, Albuquerque and surrounding cities in central New Mexico comprise a rapidly growing region in an arid environment. Planning for such an area in the 21st century requires addressing a mixture of challenges from congestion, sprawl, energy use, vehicle emissions, water supply, and potential changes in future regional climate along with related impacts.

Led by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, a group of federal agencies and the Mid-Region Council of Governments of New Mexico is embarking on a project – the Central New Mexico Climate Change Scenario Planning Project – to help the region address these intertwined challenges. This project aims to influence regional transportation and land-use decision making, and analyze strategies to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for impacts related to potential changes in future climate.

To support these efforts, a new CLIMAS report provides a summary of current research on anticipated changes to temperature and precipitation in the Southwest – with particular attention to central New Mexico and the upper Rio Grande basin – over the course of this century, as well as some of the potential impacts related to these changes. Along with information regarding the magnitude and direction of such changes, this report also presents the level of confidence that experts have in such changes, which is an important aspect of interpreting climate projections.

Arizona Facing High Fire Danger a Year After Yarnell

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Originally published, June 30, 2014 on the UA News Blog


It was one year ago that lightning struck and ignited the Yarnell Hill Fire, a devastating wildfire that resulted in the deaths of 19 firefighters who were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. This year, a combination of drought conditions, high winds and high temperatures all call for an intense fire season. Predictions indicate above-normal fire potential, and indicators suggest the onset of the monsoon season will be delayed.

Photo: High Park Fire - Creative Commons

Since October, we've had very low precipitation – averaging less than half of average across large portions of the state – accompanied by low snowpack and temperatures that have been well above average.

The combination of these factors, along with bursts of dry winds that are typical for the spring, gives us conditions of above-normal fire potential, which is what the Southwest Coordination Center, the main fire prediction center for our region, predicted beginning in late January.

And the setup for this year's fire season is ongoing drought, which affects every part of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor characterizes drought in Arizona as severe across most of the state, and as extreme in Yavapai County and much of the southeastern quarter of the state.

As of June 24, Arizona wildland fire totals, not including prescribed fires, were 139,378 acres from 783 human-caused and 50 lightning-caused fires. The total acres burned thus far exceed the median acres burned for the state for the whole fire season.

In southern Arizona, we are just past the median date of peak seasonal fire danger, but the date can vary by two weeks in any given year. Peak seasonal fire danger for northwestern Arizona, including Yavapai County where the Yarnell Hill Fire occurred in 2013, is right now – June 30 through July 1 – according to maps provided by the Southwest Coordination Center. And, earlier this year, the Southwest Coordination Center predicted above normal fire potential for mid-May through mid-July, for the southeast quarter of Arizona, stretching northwest into Yavapai County.

The current "energy release component," which indicates how hot a fire could burn, is very high and is above 2013 levels across much of Arizona. This is just one measure of fire danger commonly used by fire analysts, expressing the potential intensity of a fire given the moisture content of fuels.

While it is not surprising at this time of year to see high short-term fire danger and above normal long-term potential for Arizona fires to require extra outside resources, such as air tankers and teams with highly specialized skills for fighting fires for putting out fires – this year's levels of fire danger are exceedingly high.

Any fire is devastating to the local community, and Arizona fires can have a lingering effect on the landscape, with post-fire effects such as flooding and debris flows. It is notable that we have not suffered an enormous Wallow or Rodeo-Chediski sized fire. The Slide Fire, which burned in Oak Creek Canyon in May and early June, was severe and it occurred in very steep terrain, which increases the chances of post-fire impacts. It is a testament to the fire-fighting community and its heightened preparedness for this year's fire season that the Slide Fire did not consume even greater acreage than the 21,227 acres burned by the fire.

Looking ahead, the arrival of summer monsoon precipitation is the key to putting a lid on Arizona's high fire potential.

However, the monsoon is notoriously difficult to predict. And predicting the arrival of the monsoon is even more difficult. Nevertheless, the Southwest Coordination Center predicts a delay to the start of the monsoon. Based on comparisons with previous years that had conditions similar to 2014, the Coordination Center predicts more reliable monsoon rains east of the Continental Divide, in New Mexico. Center specialists also note that less reliable moisture on the Arizona side of the divide can lead to the possibility of continued significant fire activity into July and possibly August.

See tips on how to prevent wildfires in this post.


Gregg Garfin is Deputy Director for Science Translation & Outreach, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona