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Notes From the Field: Preparing for Climate Change Along the US-Mexico Border

Monday, October 27, 2014

 

On September 10-11, 25 scientists and natural resource managers met at the offices of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), in El Paso, Texas.  Their goal was to use strategic scenario planning techniques to gain insight into environmental and natural resource planning under highly uncertain conditions. Participants included climatologists, meteorologists, geologists, hydrologists, ecologists, biologists, and environmental economists, representing a range of U.S. and Mexican federal agencies, state agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

The workshop was organized by an ad hoc consortium of partners that consisted of:

The workshop focused on riparian zones and adjacent ecosystems in the Big Bend reach of the river, including the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, and the Monumento Natural Río Bravo del Norte en Mexico. During the two-day workshop, participants were briefed on the climate, hydrology, and ecology of the region.

Workshop Goals

  • Introduce participants to scenario planning methods for dealing with situations of high uncertainty—especially with respect to climate—and making use of climate information in decision making
  • Foster a spirit of collaboration and build bilateral teams for ongoing planning,
  • Exchange knowledge with regional risk managers about decision making needs, climate forecasts and projections, decision contexts, constraints, and risk tolerance,
  • Increase awareness of regional efforts, in order to identify areas of mutual interest and facilitate coordination and collaboration.

Dr. Holly Hartmann (Holly C. Hartmann Consulting)introduced workshop participants to strategic scenario planning techniques used by industry, the military, and some federal agencies, and facilitated most of the scenario planning exercises [2].  These techniques are focused on addressing factors outside the control of resource managers, such as climate or economic fluctuations, and were designed to help managers make informed decisisons despite considerable uncertainty.

NOAA scientists from the National Climatic Data Center, NOAA’s Southern Region office, and the El Paso Weather Forecast Office, worked with regional and state climatologists, including CLIMAS’s Dave Dubois (New Mexico State University), to assess plausible future conditions despite highly variable climate factors, including summer precipitation totals and the date of onset for the North American Monsoon (NAM). Texas State Climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon (also an affiliate of the SCIPP RISA), laid out key facts about the regional climate:

  • The region receives the vast majority of its annual precipitation during the summer season,
  • Regional precipitation variability is exceptionally high, and
  • Aside from temperature-related soil moisture decreases, there is very high uncertainty associated with climate model projections of future precipitation.

During wide-ranging discussions about the uncertainty of future climate conditions, we considered possible eastward and westward shifts in the center of action of the NAM in the border region, the timing, intensity, and amount of summer precipitation, the severity and extent of regional drought, and the impact that these factors might have on river hydrology, especially sediment flows [3].

What We Accomplished

Participants developed four preliminary scenarios focusing on:

  • Uncertainty regarding the amount and timing of future precipitation;
  • How future cooperation between stakeholders amplifies or moderates future environmental challenges; and
  • The degree to which implementation of management actions is based on correct scientific understanding of future environmental changes.

Discussion amongst participants revealed a need for more cross-border collaboration to increase preparedness and coordination, and to achieve positive outcomes in the face of future climate conditions such as sustained drought or increased flash flood frequency.

Toward the end of the workshop, IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina, took time from his busy schedule to address the participants. He emphasized the need to build capacity, on both sides of the international border, for timely and informed responses to the challenge of drought and extreme climate variations. He urged participants to make it a priority to communicate their knowledge to society.

Key outcomes of the workshop:

  • Increased capacity in the Rio Grande-Río Bravo bi-national region for using scenario planning to address uncertainty in future climatic conditions;
  • Preliminary climate change scenarios for the region, including plausible scenarios of future environmental and social impacts; and
  • Enthusiasm for continued and more detailed and deliberate bi-national discussions of these issues.

Next steps in this process:

  • Expand scenario planning methods to a broader stakeholder group interested in the region, and
  • Continue the scenario planning process by exploring existing and alternative scenarios in greater depth, and developing a portfolio of potential adaptation actions and strategies.

These steps will engage additional participants using workshops in Mexico and the U.S.

The Desert LCC is also looking to apply the climate scenario methodology presented at this workshop to landscape conservation planning and design.


Acknowledgment: This blog post benefited greatly from input by the workshop organizing committee, mentioned above

Footnotes: 

  1. About the North American Climate Services Partnership (NACSP) - In 2012, the weather services of Canada, the United States (NOAA), and Mexico signed a statement of intent to facilitate the exchange of information, technology and management practices related to the development and delivery of climate and water information for North America. The goals of NACSP are similar to those of CLIMAS: to foster the development of partnerships with the users of climate information, to enhance and improve the use of climate information by decision makers, and to create opportunities to share lessons learned from pilot projects and research. In 2013, yours truly was designated the co-chair of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo pilot project. More information about the NACSP.
  2. Hartmann's ongoing work on scenario planning and decision support has been pivotal for land management agencies such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
  3. During the last 50 or more years, sediments have been accumulating in the Big Bend reach of the Rio Grande; this has caused a degradation of habitat for fish species and other animals and plants.

Image Credit:

  1. Figure 1: US/Mexico Region - Source: Mark Briggs - World Wildlife Fund
  2. Figure 2: Big Bend National Park & Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River - Source: Billie Brauch vs. Jeffery Bennett - National Park Service - US Dept of the Interior.

SW Climate Podcast - Mini-Video: A Tale of Two Tropical Storms - Norbert vs. Odile

Friday, October 24, 2014

Next up in our new series featuring video mini-segments from the podcast.  This segment comes from the September 2014 SW Climate Podcast - and covers the impacts of Norbert and Odile in the Southwest - as part of the 2014 Eastern Pacific Tropical Storm Season

Mike Crimmins and Zack Guido talk about the specific factors that fed into Norbert vs. Odile, as well as the differential impacts of these storms (in Sept 2014).

Taken from the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Podcast

  • Mike Crimmins - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest & University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
  • Zack Guido - University of AZ International Research and Application Program (IRAP)
  • Ben McMahan - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest
  • Emily Huddleston - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest


Image Credits (in order of appearance)

  • Hurricane Norbert off coast of Baja Source: NASA GSFC GOES Satellite
  • Norbert Moisture Incursion - Source: NBC Channel 4 Action News
  • Precipitable Water 9/14/2014 - Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies
  • Space Science and Engineering Center / University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Hurricane Dolly - Source: First Alert 5 Storm Center (Texas)
  • Norbert Moisture Incursion - Source: Accuweather.com
  • Phoenix Monsoon Rain Plot - Source: Climate Science Applications Program
  • Phoenix Flooding - Source: KSHB
  • Phoenix Flooding - Source AP - Arizona Republic - Michael Chow
  • Odile Projected Path - Source: NBC News
  • Odile Circulation - Source: NASA EOSDIS Worldview
  • Odile Flood Potential - Source: Accuweather.com
  • Odile Flood Potential - Source: Accuweather.com
  • Odile Precip Forecast - Source: NOAA/NWS
  • Odile Track Swing - Source: KVOA Channel 4 News (Jeff Beamish)

If you have a question you'd like answered, you can email Zack Guido (zguido@email.arizona.edu) or Ben McMahan (bmcmahan@email.arizona.edu) with "CLIMAS Podcast Question" in the subject line.  You can also tweet us @CLIMAS_UA or post a question on facebook

Oct 2014 Southwest Climate Podcast: Monsoon Recap & El Niño Double Dips?

Friday, October 24, 2014

In the October Southwest Climate Podcast, CLIMAS climate scientists Zack Guido and Mike Crimmins discuss the 2014 monsoon, focusing on the influence of tropical storm systems, record and near-record precipitation events, monsoon intensity and duration, and the ever-present promise of El Niño.

Intro 0:00
Monsoon/Precipitation Recap: Including influence of tropical storms, record/near-record precipitation, comparison to 2013 1:00
Tropical storm influence: Extending the monsoon and driving seasonal totals 10:00
El Niño Forecast Models: Predicting a wet fall/winter, El Niño influence, Kelvin wave effects and warm waters in the Pacific 15:10
El Niño "Now-Casting": Unique case to watch, why El Niño has been hard to predict 20:00
Drought Mitigation and Winter Precip: - El Niño conditions are favorable and it's almost here  26:00
Recap & Looking Forward: (Arctic Oscillation) 31:30

If you have a question you'd like answered, you can email Zack Guido (zguido@email.arizona.edu) or Ben McMahan (bmcmahan@email.arizona.edu) with "CLIMAS Podcast Question" in the subject line. You can also tweet us @CLIMAS_UA or post a question on facebook

Also, as we mentioned last month, we have a new podcast feature: video mini-segments from the podcast.  We have four segments posted from previous podcasts, including:

Finally, we now have the capacity to release transcripts of the podcast, stay tuned.

SW Climate Podcast - Mini-Video Podcast on El Niño and ENSO Models

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

 

Next up in our new series featuring video mini-segments from the podcast.  This segment comes from the September 2014 SW Climate Podcast - and covers ENSO models and El Niño forecasts.

Mike Crimmins and Zack Guido talk about El Niño forecast models and the way that different metrics are used to predict/forecast an El Niño event.

Taken from the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Podcast

  • Mike Crimmins - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest & University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
  • Zack Guido - University of AZ International Research and Application Program (IRAP)
  • Ben McMahan - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest
  • Emily Huddleston - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest

Image Credits (in order of appearance):

  • Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies - April to December during building El Niño - ​Source: NOAA/Climate.gov
  • Global Sea Surface Anomalies - La Niña (1988) vs El Niño (1997) - Source: NOAA/Climate.gov
  • Ocean SST anomalies during ENSO cycle - Source: http://bobtisdale.wordpress.com
  • Mid-Sept IRI/CPC Plume-Based Probabilistic ENSO Forecast - Source: IRI/CPC
  • April/May/June SST in Pacific Ocean - Source: NOAA/Climate.gov
  • Mid-Sept 2014 Plume of Model ENSO Predictions - Source: IRI/CPC
  • Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) over time - Source: NOAA/CPC
  • El Niño vs. La Niña Winter Patterns  - Source: NOAA

If you have a question you'd like answered, you can email Zack Guido (zguido@email.arizona.edu) or Ben McMahan (bmcmahan@email.arizona.edu) with "CLIMAS Podcast Question" in the subject line.  You can also tweet us @CLIMAS_UA or post a question on facebook

Monsoon Recap - June 15 - Sept 30, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

Looking back on the 2014 monsoon, a simple characterization of the season as ‘normal’ or ‘average’ (or above or below these thresholds) is difficult, given the spatial and temporal variability of monsoon storms. The cumulative seasonal totals provide one way of characterizing the monsoon, and by those metrics, the Southwest saw an average to above-average summer rainy season, with much of Arizona and New Mexico receiving well above-average rainfall. 

Most of Arizona received well above-average monsoon rainfall—200 to 400 percent of average—and many     areas in the state registered 150 percent of their seasonal total or higher. The exceptions were across most of the Four Corners region and in portions of Pima, Pinal, and Graham counties (Fig. 1a). Precipitation intensity (Fig. 2a) identifies areas that received a significant portion of their monsoon precipitation in a few extreme events, with the Phoenix metropolitan area and portions of western Arizona being prime examples of more intense precipitation. Figure 3a (the percentage of days observing 0.01 inch of rain or more) further illustrates this pattern by highlighting areas that received more frequent and steady rain (e.g., much of the southeastern portion of the state) compared to areas with much less frequent rain (e.g., Phoenix, western Arizona, and the Four Corners region).

New Mexico saw a similarly strong, if not stronger, monsoon, with most areas of the state receiving more than 200 percent of their seasonal average and large swaths of southern New Mexico recording between 300 and 400 percent of their seasonal average (Fig. 1b). The exceptions were the Four Corners region and the northeastern corner of the state. New Mexico monsoon precipitation intensity (Fig. 2b) shows a relatively even pattern, with more widespread coverage and less variability compared to Arizona. The graphic depicting percent of days with rain in New Mexico (Fig. 3b) shows larger areas of more frequent but less intense precipitation, with a large percentage of the state experiencing measurable precipitation on at least a third of days during the monsoon.

The variability and intensity of these storms is only hinted at in seasonal totals however, and the monsoon is notoriously spatially variable and inconsistent. It is not uncommon for 1–2 inches of rain to fall in midtown Tucson and be dry in the foothills, or vice versa, for example, and many metrics are based on the placement of a limited number of rain gauges. This is an important point because during numerous precipitation events this season, a single storm dropped a season’s worth of rain in a day (and in a few cases, in a few hours), but the coverage was not always consistent or uniform. 

These storms also drive above-average seasonal totals, which has a limited effect on mitigating drought compared to steady and consistent rains, increase disaster potential due to intense precipitation (e.g., Tropical Storm Norbert in Phoenix and Tucson), and underscore the complexity of planning a large urban area for a possible storm event (e.g., Tropical Storm Odile in Tucson). Citizen science enterprises such as rainlog.org provide a more detailed and nuanced picture of monsoon variability through crowdsourcing of precipitation measurement, but the standard measure is still a comparison of the seasonal totals measured at stations in the Southwest (Fig. 4). The intensity and percent of days with rain (Figs. 2-3, above), help illustrate different patterns of steady vs. intense precipitation, but cumulative monsoon precipitation plots also help clarify variation in precipitation intensity.

Three plots (Figs. 5-7) help explain these different types and intensities of rain events. In September, Phoenix (Fig. 5) received almost all of its monsoon precipitation in two single days, and a majority of the rain fell in a single day when Norbert pushed in from the Gulf of California on Sept. 7. The precipitation plot for the Coronado National Monument (Fig. 6) shows a much more even precipitation pattern, with numerous smaller storms spread out over the season; the largest single-day rain event was associated with the incursion of moisture from Odile). The precipitation plot for Tucson (Fig. 7) falls in the middle, with more frequent and smaller storms compared to Phoenix, but longer dry spells and gaps in monsoon precipitation compared to Coronado NM HQ. Norbert is also clearly identifiable in this plot.

This comparison helps illustrate that while extreme precipitation events may provide short-term drought relief and precipitation totals may indicate water deficit improvements, long-term drought conditions will persist and are best mitigated by similarly long-term patterns of above-average precipitation, especially as we look forward to the winter precipitation season.

This post was originally published as part of the October 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

2014/2015 El Niño Tracker: Oct 16, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An El Niño Watch, issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC), continues for the seventh consecutive month as signs of an emerging El Niño are just on the horizon, but not quite here yet. Another slug of warm water (also known as a Kelvin wave), has been making its way across the Pacific Ocean from west to east just below the surface and is poised to emerge and help warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific over the next month or so. Westerly wind bursts, which help move this warmer-than-average water to the east, have occurred in the western and central Pacific but have been temporary and haven’t helped sustain a steady progression towards El Niño conditions, which typically peak during mid-winter. 

Forecast models are betting the current Kelvin wave and associated warm water in the east Pacific will finally get this fickle event to organize and roll forward as a weak El Niño; only a handful of models suggest a moderate-strength event. The early-October consensus forecast (Fig. 1) issued by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the CPC still indicates more than a 65 percent chance of El Niño conditions developing during the November-December-January period and most likely persisting through early next spring. The impacts associated with weak El Niño events are much less certain than with stronger events, with similar past events bringing both dry and wet conditions to the Southwest U.S. during the winter. Seasonal precipitation forecasts still indicate an enhanced chance of above-average precipitation over the upcoming winter, but confidence in this forecast has wavered slightly because of the expected weak nature of the emerging El Niño. 

This post was originally published as part of the October 2014 Southwest Climate Outlook

SW Climate Podcast - Mini-Video Podcast on Tropical Storm Climatology

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

 

Next up in our new series featuring video mini-segments from the podcast.  This segment comes from the September 2014 SW Climate Podcast - and covers Tropical Storm Climatology in the Southwest.

Mike Crimmins and Zack Guido talk about tropical storm climatology in the southwest, and the various patterns that affect the path of these storms over the season.

Taken from the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Podcast

  • Mike Crimmins - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest & University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
  • Zack Guido - University of AZ International Research and Application Program (IRAP)
  • Ben McMahan - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest
  • Emily Huddleston - CLIMAS: Climate Assessment for the Southwest

Image Credits (in order of appearance)

  • Tropical Storm Point of Origin by Date - Source: NOAA
  • TS Storm Damage - Source: Wikipedia Commons
  • Norbert 2014 Sequence - NASA Worldview Portal
  • TS Storm Frequency - NOAA
  • 2014 Pacific Tropical Storm Tracks - National Weather Service
  • Typical Arizona Cyclone Pattern - National Weather Service Tucson Office
  • Southern Arizona Track Composite - National Weather Service Tucson Office
  • Hurricane Amanda May 26, 2014 - NASA Worldview Portal
  • Genevieve, Iselle, Julio 2014 - NOAA
  • Iselle & Julio - The Weather Channel
  • Iselle Tracker - USA Today
  • Retreat of the Monsoon Ridge - NCEP/NCAR

Academic Credits

  • Ritchie E.A. & K.M. Wood (2011).  The Influence of Eastern Pacific Tropical Cyclone Remnants on the Southwestern United States.  Monthly Weather Review 139, 192-210.

If you have a question you'd like answered, you can email Zack Guido (zguido@email.arizona.edu) or Ben McMahan (bmcmahan@email.arizona.edu) with "CLIMAS Podcast Question" in the subject line.  You can also tweet us @CLIMAS_UA or post a question on facebook

Notes from an Applied Climatologist - Sept 2014 Rainlog Climate Summary

Friday, October 3, 2014

September turned out to be quite a month as far as extreme monsoon season weather across Arizona. The month started out rather quiet as the monsoon ridge of high pressure weakened and a trough of low pressure to the north ushered in dry air from the west across the state. This suppressed thunderstorm activity for several days until the monsoon ridge pushed back north helping to bring low level moisture back into the region. At the same time Hurricane Norbert was moving along the west coast of Mexico towards the southern end of the Gulf of California. By September 7th, Norbert helped spark a deep surge of moisture up the Gulf of California into the low deserts of Arizona. This sopping wet atmosphere turned into several rounds of heavy rain across both the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas breaking several daily precipitation records for these areas. Many Rainloggers in Mesa, Tempe and Chandler near Phoenix reported totals ranging from 4 to over 6 inches with this rain event. Tucson Rainloggers also reported 2 to 4 inches of total precipitation with this event. Widespread flash flooding crippled both of the metro areas and near flood flows were observed on several of the main water courses in the Tucson area.

If that weren’t enough excitement for the month, a second hurricane impacted the region although directly this time later in the month. Hurricane Odile took a similar path to Norbert early on, but turned more northerly striking the southern tip of the Gulf of California on September 15th and traveling north along the spine of Baja California creating wide swaths of wind and flooding damage in its wake. Odile’s path north helped usher in additional moisture to the low deserts of Arizona which raised the risk of flash flooding across the region. Of even more concern was the prospect of the circulation remnants passing right over southern Arizona which raised the risk even further of widespread flooding rains. Ultimately, the remnants of Odile tracked further south than expected bringing most of the flooding rains to northern Mexico where precipitation reports in excess of 7” were common. Far southeast Arizona in Cochise County was not spared by Odile, though. Many Rainloggers from Sierra Vista to Douglas to Portal reported precipitation totals from 3 to over 5 inches with this event. Flash flooding sparked by Odile in the Chiricahua Mountains ripped through the small town of Portal and destroyed a Forest Service road critical for the region.

A cold front on the 27th was the close out event for the 2014 monsoon season, which sparked several rounds of severe thunderstorms across the state with damaging winds and flash flooding reported in central and northern parts of the state. Rainloggers in Prescott reported 1 to almost 3 inches with these thunderstorms as they moved through the region.

Overall September was unusually wet over the low deserts and near to even below average across higher elevations and across much of the plateau of northeastern Arizona. The monsoon season as a whole officially ended on September 30th with much the same pattern across the state with the much of western and central Arizona observing above-average precipitation and the northeast corner of the state observing less activity and below-average precipitation. Short-term drought conditions improved in some of these areas that received above-average precipitation, but longer-term drought conditions persist across the region.


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

SW Climate Podcast - Mini-Video Podcast on Monsoon & Drought Q&A

Thursday, October 2, 2014

We are introducing a new feature: video mini-segments from the podcast.  The first segment comes from the August 2014 SW Climate Podcast - and addresses monsoon & drought in response to a listener question.

If you have a question you'd like answered, you can email Zack Guido (zguido@email.arizona.edu) or Ben McMahan (bmcmahan@email.arizona.edu) with "CLIMAS Podcast Question" in the subject line.  You can also tweet us @CLIMAS_UA or post a question on facebook

Southwest Climate Podcast: Tropical Storm Climatology & El Niño Models

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In the September Southwest Climate Podcast, Zack Guido and Mike Crimmins talk about tropical storm climatology, details about Norbert and Odile, explore the details of the "Kelvin Wave", and answer a question about El Niño models submitted by a listener.

Intro & Recap: 0:00
Tropical Storm Climatology 10:06
Norbert Vs. Odile 14:45
What is a Kelvin Wave? 27:53
El Niño Models (Question from listener) 29:45

If you have a question you'd like answered, you can email Zack Guido (zguido@email.arizona.edu) or Ben McMahan (bmcmahan@email.arizona.edu) with "CLIMAS Podcast Question" in the subject line.  You can also tweet us @CLIMAS_UA or post a question on facebook

Also, we are introducing a new feature: video mini-segments from the podcast.  The first of which comes from last month's podcast, and addresses monsoon & drought in response to a listener question, and is viewable on youtube.