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CLIMAS Fellow: Conservation and Development on the Loess Plateau

Thursday, October 20, 2016

It takes ten years to grow trees but a hundred years to educate a person--Chinese Proverb

On the Loess Plateau

Agriculture has always been a crucial part of the Chinese identity and cultural heritage. At the heart of China, where agriculture began to flourish, is the Loess Plateau, which has taken millions of years to be blown in by the wind, and known as ‘cradle of Chinese civilization’. The Loess Plateau covers an area 2.5 times the size of UK, and is stripped away by the mighty Yellow River, a raging torrent which washes up to 1.6 billion tons of soil downstream every year (Williams 2010).

Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers in China and around the globe have been working on soil and water conservation on Loess Plateau since the dawn of 20th Century. From the eastern part of Loess Plateau, climate transitioned from semi-arid to arid to the inner west. Facing the encroaching desertification from the deserts to the northwest, and the massive urbanization projects within the region, rural farmers on the Loess Plateau are torn between conservation, mechanization, and economic development. 

Figure 1. The Yellow River gets its name from the yellow loess suspended in the water. (Image Source)

Ecological Construction

To control severe soil erosion on the Loess Plateau, the Chinese government devised a series of policies for fragile ecosystems, such as the 1999 state-funded “Grain-for-Green “project or Sloping Land Conversion Program, which has resulted in significant land use changes. Related programs have produced beneficial effects on reducing soil erosion and water cycles. However, the long term impact of these changes in soil and water cycle on ecosystem functioning is unknown and demands further study. Against this backdrop, forestry agencies in Shanxi province on the Loess Plateau has opened up experimental spaces for different approaches to ecological restoration, including efforts led by grass-roots organizations. 

Figure 2. Location of Shilou County, Shanxi Province, China.

Figure 2. Trees are required to plant along side all major highways, railroads, and especially urban centers

The challenge of afforestation on the Loess Plateau is the efficient and reasonable use of water resources and soil conservation due to the characteristic hilly and fragmented landscape. Terracing and soil amendments are among the many ways to achieve this goal. Mostly rain-fed agriculture (annual precipitation ranges from 400 to 600 mm), the vegetation includes naturally grown grass, shrub and trees that scattered at the edge of hills and gullies. The word “loess” comes from the German word for “loose.” Loess is soft enough to carve, but strong enough to stand as sturdy walls. On the loess plateau, more than half of the residents build cave-like dwellings in thick loess cliffs that are cool in summer and warm in the winter.

Not all lands are suitable for reforestation. Those with least productivity and steep slopes, which cost a lot for maintenance are designated as reforestation zone. Native species that are tolerant of drought is planted with proper density to avoid unnecessary water consumption. On places where land is relatively flat with higher productivity, cash crops would be priority.

The non-governmental organization based in Hong-Kong called Green Action Charity Foundation, is leading a reforestation project in rural Shanxi province, with the help from the local government. They are planning to plant 100 acres of bare-land this year. Moreover, local grass-roots initiatives from Hong Kong is now subsidizing the village to build a bridge which might help improve transportation and development of economy of the corn field at level ground below the plantation site. The villagers are planning to grow more vegetables instead of corn to have more financial income as the water table there seem to improve after the reforestation.

Figure 4. Corns planted on flat farmland in rural Shanxi & Figure 5. Terraced hill planted with mixture of Robinia psudoacacia (Black locust), Populous simonii (Cottonwood) and Pinus tabulaeformis (red pine) seedlings in 2009 in Shanxi.

Conservation Farming

The transition from smallholders’ economy to larger-scale commercial production requires sound and steady adaptation that fits local social and environmental management arrangements. Especially on the Loess Plateau, where gullies and hills fragmented the landscape, large scale production like those in the US is not suitable. The term conservation agriculture (CA) is prevalent in Shanxi and Gansu provinces, both located on the Loess Plateau. Increased water infiltration and reduction in water and wind erosion is achieved through reduced tillage and retention of ground cover. But it is still moderately embraced by farmers, who are skeptical of the outcome of some of its lauded technology and find precision agriculture not worthy of investment when market prices are volatile in the near future. However, several techniques have already been widely implemented due to its easy access, low cost and risk such as: terracing, ridge-furrow irrigation, plastic mulch, and fertilizer.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Reforestation does not produce immediate financial gains for farmers to improve the quality of life they desire. In rural China, the definition of well-being is changing, albeit slower than its urban counterparts. I still remember a local village resident who hosted me during my visit in rural Gansu province asked: “Are you here to lift the poor?”. The term, lifting the poor, is the party-government’s official lexicon, a term very pervasive in rural China. The residents of the village are conscious of the fact that they were being labeled “poor”, which in China also implies “backwardness” and lacking “quality” (素質) and “civilization” (文明). Under the development banner of “Scientific development and Harmonious homeland “, most public agency from local to national-level, has a designated village that they are responsible for supporting financially, as part of the national poor lifting policies. 

Figure 6. Plastic film mulch reduces water usage through reducing evapotranspiration in rural Gansu. However, massive used films have also become a waste issue.

What Are We Trying to Sustain?

What is missing from the push for conservation agriculture and reforestation is the ‘human development’ component. What does the future entail for the villagers in Shanxi and Gansu provinces? What are their visions of their land and lives for future generations? As technology and science advances, would we be able to create a sustainable future in a meaningful manner in less than a few decades?

       It takes 10 years to grow trees but 100 years to educate a person. (Chinese Proverb)

Is it possible that when we (outsiders) view China, we miss the forest for the trees? In both developed and developing countries, conservation efforts are growing as concerns about environmental sustainability led both Chinese leaders and citizens question their earlier approaches towards development. The durability and environmental outcome of these government-sponsored and grass-root initiated reforestation projects is unknown at this time, but the cooperative process among local officials, NGO and farmers is valuable because it offers an alternative way of governance that enables ‘two-way learning’, albeit slow, that would help us understand how to incorporate the human-development considerations with the technocratic way we govern our environment. And we do have a long way to go!

Figure 7. Reforested area from 2006 in Shanxi province. 

Acknowledgements: The author is grateful for Green Action Charity Foundation (GACF) based in Hong-Kong for providing the opportunity to participate and to learn about their reforestation efforts. GACF is the leader and sponsor of the reforestation project in rural Shanxi. The author would also like to express gratitude to partners from Shanxi Academy of Forestry, local researchers, and farmers from both Shanxi and Gansu province. Last but not least, the author are grateful for CLIMAS’s fellowship program for the opportunity to further this research project. 

CLIMAS Fellow: Installations, Interviews, and Investment: my summer of gathering what’s possible for the Navajo Nation’s energy future

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In spring 2014, I left my job in Seattle and went on a road trip to tour coal country from Appalachia to Arizona. I was searching for answers to restless questions: how, in the face of climate change, would the US transition its entrenched fossil fuel infrastructure to renewables? How could that transition re-center culture, community, and a sustainable economy? Through a 6-week volunteer stint at Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), I began to see the outlines of answers in BMWC’s work to develop community-based solar. I knew I wanted to stay connected to this important work and support it however I could.

Just a year later, I was back at Black Mesa Water Coalition as a student at the University of Arizona and a Climate and Society Graduate Fellow with CLIMAS (also funded by the Renewable Energy Network’s Future Energy Leaders Summer Fellowship program). This time, I was working together with the small but mighty nonprofit to write a report about challenges, opportunities, and recommendations to develop solar power on the Navajo Nation. 

Creating a Use-Inspired, Collaborative Project

In the midst of spring finals at the University of Arizona, I drove up to BMWC’s Flagstaff office to work out our research plan with the Executive Director, Jihan Gearon. In winter 2015-16, we had imagined an interview-based needs assessment about off-grid solar requirements on the Navajo Nation as well as an assessment of private finance models that could help meet the need. By spring the organization’s calendar had shifted and we needed to reassess the questions and outcomes that would best serve BMWC’s work. As it would happen, the timing of my Fellowship turned out to be a big transition moment for the organization. After 10 years creating political possibilities for solar transition the Navajo Nation, the Black Mesa Solar Project was gearing up to spread its wings and launch a new chapter as a partner entity, Native Renewables. Summer 2016 would a critical time to gather together the decade of learning and analysis BMWC had acquired from its solar work, to evaluate these learnings, and to craft recommendations for the next chapter of Navajo energy transition. Gearon expressed to me that the most important contribution I could make would be to co-author a report that would articulate the history of the program and a vision for the future of solar on the Navajo Nation.

Thus, our project took on a new shape, that of an internal program evaluation. This approach is aligned with the goals of the CLIMAS Fellowship in three ways: (1) it exemplifies CLIMAS’ emphasis of co-production as it positions me to work as an equal partner together with BMCW staff on the project; (2) it is truly use-inspired because the format, methodology and timeline of the project are tailored to the needs and capacity of the community partner; and (3) as a student researcher, this process has taught me flexibility and given me a chance to explore alternate methodologies. I also learned the ins and outs of the University of Arizona and Navajo Nation IRB processes as I came to find our project was exempt.

In the summer, I relocated to Flagstaff and met with Gearon and Wahleah Johns, Black Mesa Solar Project Manager, to craft the precise parameters for the project and our methodology. To collect internal organizational data, I set up interviews with staff and interns and reviewed organizational archives, past reports, and news articles to reconstruct an outline of the Black Mesa Solar Project’s history and context.

Working out of the BMWC offices, there was constant activity and learning as staff came and went, participated in webinars on the Clean Power Plan, and discussed options for developing BMWC’s various Green Economy programs. One of the highlights of the summer was observing the final stages of a Solar Project case study: the long-awaited installation of a solar array at the Forest Lake Chapter House.

It’s All About the Journey

In July, I headed out to the Forest Lake Chapter House, a community building on Black Mesa, for the second-to-final phase of installation and to interview Wahleah Johns.

This is where I must tell the embarrassing and harrowing tale of my trip. First, I need to preface this story by saying that I’m a child of the rural West: I grew up in an agricultural valley on the Olympic Peninsula down a dirt road three hours from a city, without cell phone reception. It’s also worth saying in my defense that there had been a mix-up and I left Flagstaff with the wrong address for the Chapter House. Nonetheless, I will admit that I fell victim to my generation’s dependency on 4G and I paid the price: for six hours, I drove down the wrong rough dirt road…which became a track…which became an impassable trail…all because Google Maps Woman was so certain I was on the fastest route and should reach my destination and she was SO BOSSY I couldn’t turn back! It was 100 degrees and I was out of water, nearly out of gas, miles from any homes, and my low-clearance station wagon as receiving a very aggressive belly massage and I was sure she would rupture a sensitive metal organ. There was no more deluding myself: there was no more road and Google Maps, I had to admit, had lied to me. I was not on the fastest route and I would not reach my destination by 1PM. I focused on the beauty of the juniper trees, the exquisite quiet of the sky, and resolved to lock my phone away and never listen to the siren song of Google Maps Woman again. I was tearful with gratitude when I made it back to a road, found reception, and called for directions. And extremely embarrassed. Incredibly, the installation was still underway and the interview was on.

Forest Lake Chapter installation and interview

Forest Lake Chapter is located on Black Mesa about 17 miles north of Pinon, AZ. Black Mesa, so called for the land’s coal-rich dark tone, has long been a locus for energy struggle in the West. Peabody Energy began coal mining in this area at the Kayenta and Black Mesa mines in the late 1960s. As numerous Indigenous activists and historians recount, corporate coal interests continued to exert their influence on the region in the form of legal action and legislation such as the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974, which has forced thousands of Navajo families and many Hopi families off this coal-rich land[1]. A moratorium on permitting and development in this area has impoverished many of the families who have resisted relocation and fought to remain on their land. This is one of the reasons many parts of Black Mesa lack grid-connection and access to electric power. Thus, as an environmental justice organization with its origins in Black Mesa campaigns to resist resource exploitation and pollution, BMWC has prioritized Black Mesa communities as a site for renewable energy alternatives.

One of the Black Mesa Solar Project’s goals was to develop a solar project to power a Black Mesa community building that could demonstrate to the local community the energy and cost savings from solar. The money saved from the solar array would be diverted to youth and community programs. Forest Lake Chapter House was found to be an ideal location for a solar installation as the building is heavily used for community events, youth programs, and other functions—and gets good solar radiation. Solar on this building would raise the visibility of solar and its benefits for a large number of Black Mesa residents.

This particular installation was a gift to the community. It was paid for by several nonprofit foundations and the labor was donated by Solar City. This installation was the culmination of years of advocacy, research, education, and facilitation by Johns together with other community partners and allies. However, this project is not an example of a scalable finance model that could be grown to meet the energy needs of the 18,000 off-grid households on the Navajo Nation. Nor is it a sustainable model to fund solar systems for the many community and school buildings that would benefit from solar. Furthermore, in an ideal scenario, good living wage jobs on solar projects would go to local Navajo and Hopi workers. Despite its divergence from a broader future model, this installation is a big step for solar on the Navajo Nation and has been celebrated by the local community.

This solar installation is a public demonstration of how solar works and how it can replace fossil fuel-based energy. Already, the system is making solar more visible in the community. For example, the first day of installation was also the day of an important Chapter grazing meeting and a youth program meeting. Many of the people who came to the Chapter House for these events asked questions and wondered aloud where they could get solar for their own homes. As the year goes on, the Chapter will be able to report its energy and cost savings, generating more enthusiasm for this alternative energy technology. 

I spoke informally with the solar installers, who were enthusiastic about installing solar on the Navajo Nation and effusive about their love for their jobs. They left the impression that solar jobs offer a great deal of satisfaction and that workers from diverse backgrounds are accessing the field. I learned that without net-metering policies, it is virtually impossible for most people to afford solar; thus, net-metering is one of the most important policy mechanisms for making solar affordable. I also learned the solar field is still a long way from gender equity: women are still few and far between in the trade.

One of the exciting aspects of the Forest Chapter House installation is that it includes a Tesla Power Wall, a battery to capture the solar energy generated for use during peak hours or when solar radiation is low. This is the first Power Wall installation in the state of Arizona. The Power Wall sells for about $10,000— a price not affordable for most low-income off-grid households. 

The challenge of cost is a central focus of my report with BMWC. As the wind picked up and it started to rain, Johns and I retreated to her truck for our interview. Johns recounted the history of her time with the Black Mesa Solar Project and discussed the many challenges the Nation faces in making solar affordable. Johns told me about some of the challenges around finding enough finance for projects, credit barriers some low income households face when they look at an investment like solar, and the lack of awareness many funders and investors have about energy justice issues on the Navajo Nation. As we outline in our report, the Black Mesa Solar Project has explored and will continue to explore the cost challenges associated with solar affordability for Navajo Nation communities. Through our report, BMWC shares a vision for how Navajo Nation and federal policy, along with private investment, could make solar more affordable for off-grid and grid-connected Navajo communities. Our final report will be available soon. 

Working together with BMWC meant I had a chance to get to know the range of the group’s work. Though I participated on my own time and separate from my Fellowships, I will recount these activities as I think they illustrate what it can look like to do collaborative relationship-based work with a partner organization that works for justice on many fronts.

Just Transition Fellowship Training

I had the chance to build a stronger relationship with BMWC and to better understand its environmental justice work and paradigm as a volunteer at the 2016 Summer Just Transition Fellowship Training. At a busy memorial day weekend training, many elders and community leaders came to speak to the young Navajo Fellows about the history of mining and coal plant pollution on Black Mesa, water extraction, climate change, indigenous agriculture, and spiritual traditions to support them through their work. As I managed logistics, picked up speakers, and cooked food, I got to know the Just Transition Fellows and heard about where they came from. With skills as artists, researchers, horse-trainers, builders, and with a deep commitment to their ancestral lands and communities, the Fellows had many talents to bring to their work. It was a joy to share an office with one of them throughout the summer and to get to know them better at the training. 

Prayers and Protest

I was also saddened to learn more about violence experienced by Native women at the hands of law enforcement. I attended a prayerful protest and march with one of the Just Transition Summer Fellows at the end of my time with BMWC. Loreal Tsingine’s family spoke about the loss of their 27-year-old daughter and the injustice they saw in Arizona’s refusal to prosecute the police officer who had shot her on Easter Day, 2016 in the border town of Winslow, AZ. 

[1] Nies, J. (2014). Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West. Nation Books.

Wilkinson, C. F. (1999). Fire on the Plateau. Island Press.

Oct 2016 Southwest Climate Outlook - Climate Summary

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From the October issue of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

Precipitation and Temperature: September precipitation totals were near average across most of the climate divisions in Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 1a), with one notable departure being the swath of above-average precipitation in the borderlands region linked to Tropical Storm Newton. September temperatures were average to below average in Arizona and average to above average in New Mexico (Fig. 1b). October precipitation to date has been below average across most of the region (Fig. 2), although October is one of the drier months in the Southwest, so dry conditions are not unexpected, and a single tropical storm or fall storm can skew the percent of normal. October temperatures have been 2 to 6 degrees above average for most of New Mexico and 0 to 4 degrees above average for most of Arizona (Fig. 3). This is in part connected to global trends that are likely to see 2016 as the warmest year on record (breaking the record set in 2015).

Monsoon 2016: Precipitation totals (June 15 – Sept 30) were generally below average across much of Arizona except for the southeastern and northwestern corners of the state (see Fig. 2a in Monsoon Recap). New Mexico saw more uniform coverage and average to above-average totals, especially in the southern half of the state (see Fig. 2b in Monsoon Recap). A number of weather stations in the borderlands region of the Southwest recorded well-above-average seasonal totals (e.g. Tucson, Safford, Douglas, Animas, El Paso, and Van Horn), while central areas (e.g. Albuquerque, Phoenix, Los Alamos) saw average or even below-average totals (see Southwestern Monsoon Recap for more details).

Drought & Water Supply: Water year precipitation to date (Oct 1, 2015 – Sept 30, 2016) was below average in much of the Southwest, particularly in Southern California, most of southern Arizona, and western New Mexico, while northern Arizona and eastern New Mexico were average to above average (Fig. 4). Long-term drought conditions persist across the Southwest (Fig. 5). According to the US Drought Monitor, most of Arizona is designated as abnormally dry (D0) or experiencing moderate drought (D1), with the far southwestern corner of Arizona designated as experiencing severe drought (D2), reflecting the persistent multi-year drought conditions extending from central and southern California.  In New Mexico, much of the northern half of the state, along with the US-Mexico border region, are designated as abnormally dry (D0). There is ongoing concern that continued western drought conditions may lead to water supply restrictions (for more information see reservoir storage).

ENSO & La Niña: In a reversal from last month’s forecasts, La Niña is back on the horizon for this winter. Current model consensus hovers around a 70-percent chance of a weak La Niña forming, but models and forecasts also indicate that this event could decline quickly in early 2017, which may limit its influence on weather in the Southwest. The relationship between the strength of La Niña and winter precipitation in the Southwest is relatively weak, and the Southwest is inherently dry (i.e. winter already sees relatively low precipitation totals in a normal year). Even so, the persistence and duration of La Niña conditions could increase the chance of a drier-than-average winter. This raises concern given the multi-year drought observed in the Southwest, and the possibility of water restrictions if Lake Mead drops below the 1075-foot elevation threshold.

Precipitation & Temperature Forecasts: The Oct 20 NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for November calls for increased chances of below-average precipitation and increased chances of above-average temperature. The three-month outlook for November through January calls for increased chances of below-average precipitation (Fig. 6, top) and increased chances of above-average temperatures (Fig. 6, bottom).

Oct 2016 La Niña Tracker

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From the October issue of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

In the last month, oceanic and atmospheric indicators of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have pushed forecasts back towards an increased likelihood of a La Niña event this winter (Figs. 1-2). Models are indicating an increased possibility of these conditions sustaining through winter 2017, leading to greater certainty regarding the formation of a weak La Niña event in late 2016 or early 2017. However, the chance of an ENSO-neutral winter cannot be entirely ruled out. Fluctuations in forecasts and models are likely due to the limited coordination between oceanic and atmospheric conditions described in previous outlooks, as well as generally borderline conditions between weak La Niña and ENSO-neutral.

A closer look at the various forecasts and seasonal outlooks provides insight into the range of expectations for this La Niña event. On October 11, the Japanese Meteorological Agency identified La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific, and projected a 60-percent chance that they would remain through winter 2017, down from 70 percent in September. Also on October 11, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology maintained its La Niña watch with a 50-percent chance of La Niña forming this winter, identifying numerous indicators that had shifted towards more La Niña-favorable conditions but noting that some uncertainty would remain until there was greater consensus in the models.  On Oct 13, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) pivoted to a more bullish La Niña forecast, with a 70-percent chance of La Niña developing in 2016 and a 55-percent chance of this event persisting through winter 2016-2017. On Oct 20, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and CPC forecasts described borderline weak La Niña conditions as present, but that may not even last through 2016, given poor atmospheric coupling and a general lack of trade winds typically seen in La Niña events. The North American multi-model ensemble characterizes the current model spread and highlights the variability looking forward to 2017. In the current run, the ensemble mean hovers around weak La Niña through 2016 before returning to neutral conditions in early 2017 (Fig. 4), whereas last month it showed a more rapid rebound to neutral conditions in 2016.

Collectively, these forecasts suggest that the Southwest is more likely than not to experience a weak La Niña event during winter 2016-2017, which could bring warmer- and drier-than-average conditions to the region over the cool season. The caveat is that most models show a relatively rapid decline in La Niña conditions by early 2017, which could mean a return of ENSO-neutral conditions before the peak of cool season precipitation in the Southwest (January-March), which might limit the La Niña influence on precipitation (Figs. 5a-b). On the other hand, even if the event wobbles back towards neutral, the oceanic and atmospheric conditions could still exert some influence on seasonal weather patterns. This uncertainty is difficult to plan around, but Southwestern winters are already characterized by a relatively dry climate (i.e. limited precipitation events over the cool season), and a La Niña event generally has the potential to shift that seasonal pattern to an even drier state (Fig. 6). There is greater variability in precipitation totals during ENSO-neutral years, making it harder to predict winter precipitation totals, but in general a wetter than average winter is unlikely if La Niña conditions persist.

Oct 2016 - Southwest Monsoon Recap

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From the October issue of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

The Southwest saw the first strong burst of widespread monsoon activity near the end of June, followed by a break in monsoon activity over the first half of July as atmospheric circulation patterns and lack of available moisture limited opportunities for widespread storms to develop, especially at lower elevations.  By mid-to-late July, increasingly favorable conditions helped storms to form and spread, culminating in an extended period of widespread activity during late July and early August. Tropical Storm Javier helped jumpstart activity again in mid-August, providing a brief extension to storm activity via a surge of moisture from the Gulf of California. The remainder of August and September saw a decline in widespread monsoon activity, even while numerous areas did receive intermittent precipitation, particularly at higher elevations. On September 7, Hurricane Newton generated significant precipitation in a swath across southwestern Arizona and into central New Mexico. Finally, portions of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico saw a run of storms linked to a cutoff low in late September.

Based on cumulative totals for the official monsoon period, most of Arizona recorded average to below-average precipitation, even while clusters of the state recorded above-average rainfall (Figs. 2a and 3a). The percent of days with rain highlights the spatial variability of the monsoon and emphasizes the clustering of storms in the southeastern corner of the state (Fig. 4a). Precipitation plots from specific stations further highlight this variability, with Douglas, Flagstaff, and Tucson stations all showing that their seasonal average for monsoon precipitation had been surpassed by early September (Figs. 7a-c), while other stations such as Tacna 3 NE in the southwest corner of Arizona only recorded a few events and were well below their seasonal total (Fig. 7d).

Cumulative monsoon precipitation totals show that New Mexico caught up in the last month. Much of the state recorded average to above-average monsoon total precipitation, although some areas remained below average (Figs. 2b and 3b). Relatively widespread, uniform precipitation was indicated by the observation that most of the stations across the state recorded rain on at least 30 percent of days in which rain was recorded anywhere, and a slightly smaller yet still significant region recorded rain on 50 percent of such days (Fig. 4b). Station plots also demonstrate below-average precipitation in select locations such as Albuquerque and the Animas 3ESE station (Figs. 7e & 7g), while others such as El Paso, Texas, recorded above-average precipitation (Fig. 7f).

The official monsoon lasts for 108 days (June 15 – Sept 30), but the majority of storm activity occurs in July and August (Figure 5 below). As the season progresses, conditions become increasingly less favorable for monsoon storm formation, shifting from a typical monsoon circulation (e.g. Four Corners high) to a more fall-like pattern (Figs. 6a-6b). In 2016 there was a general consensus that the monsoon had basically shut down by mid-August. Around this time, however, eastern Pacific tropical storm activity ramped up (e.g. Javier, Newton), as typically occurs. Such activity is frequently attributed to the monsoon, as it contributes additional moisture to the region and can help fuel monsoon storm activity. Furthermore, the shifting circulation patterns can help recurve tropical storm activity back into the Southwest. The tropical storm season extends well beyond the bounds of the official monsoon, so it is a matter of timing and/or chance whether these storms contribute moisture before or after the September 30 monsoon cutoff. A few key events – Javier in August, Newton in early September, a cutoff low in late September – helped produce precipitation through the end of September. These storms may not be directly tied to the monsoon circulation patterns we see at the peak of the monsoon in July and August, but they do “count” in terms of seasonal totals and scoring the monsoon.