The University of Arizona

Monthly Archive | CLIMAS

Monthly Archive

Southwest Climate Outlook December 2019 - Climate Summary

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Monthly Precipitation and Temperature: November precipitation was much above average in much of Arizona save for a small pocket of below average in the four corners region, while New Mexico was mostly above average or much above average (Fig. 1a). November temperatures were above average or much above average in most of Arizona and ranged from average to much above average in most of New Mexico (Fig. 1b). The daily average temperature anomalies for Oct 1 – Nov 19 (Fig. 2) highlight the fluctuations at select stations around the region.


Fall 2019: Fall precipitation (Sept-Nov) in Arizona ranged from much below average in the four corners region to much above average or even record wettest in the southern third of the state (Fig. 3a). Fall precipitation for New Mexico was average to below average in the northern third, and average to much above average across the rest of the state (Fig. 3a). Fall temperatures were generally above average across Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 3b).



Annual: Total precipitation (Jan-Nov 2019) was mostly average to above average in Arizona except for the four corners region. New Mexico was average to below average across most of the state (Fig. 4a). Mean temperatures are mostly average to above average in Arizona and above average to much above average in New Mexico (Fig. 4b).


Snowpack & Water Supply: As of Dec 17, there is a wide range of snowpack values across Arizona and New Mexico, with more consistent above median snowpack in northern New Mexico and into Utah and Colorado (Fig 5). Many reservoirs in the region are at or above the values recorded this time last year, but most are below their long-term average (see Arizona and New Mexico reservoir storage).


Drought: The Dec. 10 U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) has scaled back some of the drought characterizations in the Southwest, particularly in the southern regions of Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 6). This reflects the wetter than normal conditions in November, but it remains to be seen whether this pulse of moisture provides any substantive and long-term drought relief for the affected regions. A large pocket of “Severe Drought” (D2) remains centered on the Four Corners region, reflecting acute and accumulated precipitation deficits.



ENSO Tracker: Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are generally consistent with an ENSO-neutral outlook for 2019 and into 2020 (see ENSO-tracker for details).

Precipitation and Temperature Forecast: The three-month outlook for January through March calls for increased chances of below-normal precipitation along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Southern California, and eastern New Mexico, with equal chances of above or below normal precipitation across much of the rest of the Southwest. (Fig. 7, top). The three-month temperature outlook calls for increased chances of above-normal temperatures across most of Texas, New Mexico, and Southeastern Arizona, along with much of north central Mexico (Fig. 7, bottom).



Online Resources

  • Figures 1,3-4 - National Centers for Environmental Information -
  • Figure 2 - Climate Assessment for the Southwest -
  • Figure 5 - Natural Resources Conservation Service -
  • Figure 6 - U.S. Drought Monitor -
  • Figure 7 - International Research Institute for Climate and Society -

Southwest Climate Outlook - El Niño Tracker - December 2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Warm waters continue to linger in western regions of the equatorial Pacific (Figs. 1-2), but are expected to fall within the range of ENSO-neutral for winter 2019-2020 and into spring 2020.



Forecast Roundup: On Dec 10, the Japanese Meteorological Agency highlighted a trend towards near-normal sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the equatorial Pacific, despite recent positive SST anomalies. They maintained their call for a 60-percent chance of ENSO-neutral conditions to continue until spring 2020. On Dec 10, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology noted “abnormally warm sea surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific” and their influence on regional weather patterns but maintained their ENSO Outlook at ‘inactive’ through early 2020. On Dec 12, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued their ENSO diagnostic discussion with an inactive alert status and called for a 65-percent chance of ENSO-neutral through spring 2020. They noted that oceanic and atmospheric conditions were “consistent with ENSO-neutral” despite some above average SSTs, especially in the western equatorial Pacific, but forecasters also highlighted a 25- to 30-percent chance of El Niño. On Dec 12, the International Research Institute issued an ENSO Quick Look (Fig. 3), noting recent above normal SSTs had “returned to normal in December” and ENSO-neutral was most likely in 2019-2020, but with “slightly higher chances for El Niño than La Niña”. The Dec 2019 North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) shows the persistent positive SST anomalies in November but is predicted to return and remain within the range of ENSO-neutral through 2019 and into 2020 (Fig. 4).



Summary: Recent positive SST anomalies in the equatorial Pacific are mostly attributed to seasonal variability and not El Niño, although the recent CPC forecast discussion did include a forecast probability for El Niño, so we will keep an eye on any additional developments. The consensus remains that despite recent warming, most oceanic and atmospheric conditions are within the range of ENSO-neutral, and ENSO-neutral remains the most likely outcome for winter 2019-2010. In the Southwest, ENSO-neutral winters have produced some of the wettest and driest winters (and everything in between). We continue to monitor sub-seasonal and short term forecasts for insight into upcoming events. Given recent and long-term drought conditions in the Southwest, a sustained run of regular precipitation events spread out over the cool season would be most welcome.

Online Resources

  • Figure 1 - Australian Bureau of Meteorology -
  • Figure 2 - NOAA - Climate Prediction Center -
  • Figure 3 - International Research Institute for Climate and Society -
  • Figure 4 - NOAA - Climate Prediction Center -

Working on Projects with Students at Naco Elementary

Monday, December 9, 2019

Energetic middle schoolers fill the classroom air with excitement.  Three UA graduate students are standing in the way between their final hours of summer school and unlimited summer fun.  We better make this engaging! I think to myself. Today, we are there to talk about environmental science, and how the quality of our environment- the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the soil that we run on- affects our every day lives, including our health.

 Naco, Arizona is a small border community that has been on the radar of environmental and health service agencies due to historic transnational sanitary sewage overflows near residential areas. The Naco Elementary School community has expressed concern and we have been working with them and the Cochise Health and Social Services to test for residual microbial contamination.  It is also important for Naco Elementary students to be aware of such events and be critical of the quality of the environment that surrounds them.  We all have a right for a safe place to live and play.

Students get into teams and follow a worksheet guiding them through the scientific process…

Ask a question- Is the water from the water fountain outside of the cafeteria safe to drink?

Make a hypothesis- Since many students drink from it, it must be safe to drink.

Test it!

Teams come back to the classroom carrying water samples from their site of choice.  They are provided store-bought water quality testing kits. Some teams decide to split up responsibilities- as one dips the strips testing for different indicators such as total chlorine and pH, the other refers to the color chart and records the results.

Analyze the data & make conclusions- Once all gloves and strips have been discarded, teams  are asked to discuss their findings. How similar or different were our results from each other? How many of our samples were within acceptable levels?

After our activity, a student comes up and asks us where we bought the water testing kits. He says he is interested in testing the water at his home.  Another girl comes up to me and asks me if I am Mexican because she can hear my accent.  I tell her yes, I grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and was brought to U.S. when I was nine years old.  She excitedly replies, “me too!” and tells me she also wants to go to college. 

Ice cream sandwiches are passed around and with sticky fingers we say goodbye as students walk out to the school bus. “Don’t forget to practice your English during the Summer!” the principal waves to the students.

To the north of the school the Mule Mountains stand starkly against the clear blue sky.  To the south, the border fence snails along with the Port of Entry close in sight.  Naco Elementary is part of an integrated binational community. Although a physical structure separates both countries, protecting our shared ecosystem is a responsibility that concerns us all.

Mining and Groundwater in Southern Arizona

Monday, December 9, 2019

As I drive southwest along highway 82 from Sonoita, Arizona toward the Town of Patagonia, Red Mountain emerges on the skyline. The north face of the mountain is covered in vegetation, cloaking the red rhyolite that is visible from the south. Even more concealed are the systems of fractures, faults and old mining tunnels that complicate the hydrology of the area. I turn off the highway, ascend a winding dirt road, park my car and walk down a steep valley south of Red Mountain, keeping an eye on my GPS. I soon find myself at the entrance a gaping hole in the rock. The hole appears to be a cave, but it is not. Old mine adits; the mouths of snaking underground tunnels of abandoned mines, leak water, sludge, and a cool, ominous, vapor. The entrance of some are covered in a tongue of green moss; the opportune plant making the most of the moist mouth of the adits. Historic mines create a unique plumbing system in a mountain of fractured rock and act as massive pipes that drain out groundwater from the mountain. 


Figure 1: Old Mine Adit at Red Mountain (left) & Figure 2: Snowfall hiding old adit (right)

These adits, along with naturally occurring springs, are where groundwater, stored in the mountains, finds its way to the surface and beings to flow downhill in the small drainages towards Sonoita Creek. These adtis and springs began as coordinates on my GPS and with the help of knowledge and guidance from local Patagonians, materialized into unique sampling locations. Many were down steep gullies or up remote forest service roads. Each time we set out to find a spring or adit, I was sure it would be dry or nonexistent. However, nearly every time I was mistaken. Even in the desert in May, naturally occurring springs produce water, day and night, sustaining wildlife and providing clues to the underground plumbing of the Patagonia mountains. These adits and springs, where water emerges from the subsurface and begins to flow as surface water, combined with a few select wells were the geocaches of the summer’s field work.


Figure 3: Testing Water Quality from Springs (above)

Figure 4: Exploring (right)



Members of a citizen science group named Patagonia Area Water Study helped identify springs and helped navigate the sometimes-steep terrain to find them. The citizen scientists have been collecting water quality data from perennial and ephemeral reaches of creeks within the basin, and the sampled springs may become additional monitoring locations for the citizen science group. The citizen scientists were curious of what we could learn from the samples. How can one determine the “age” of water in a lab? How would our results may help them in their monitoring efforts? I’d explain about isotopes and geochemistry and assure them that we would make the results of our research accessible, understandable and hopefully applicable. The samples were collected, labeled, stored and sent to the lab for analysis.  

Figure 5: Collecting samples from Spring for Testing

On the Town’s annual Earth Day Celebration, the Town of Patagonia’s Flood and Flow committee set up a meeting to inform citizen on the efforts of the committee and how they could be involved in our research. The meeting was well attended and the concern about the future of water supply within the Sonoita creek basin was evident. Citizens volunteered their wells to be sampled and expressed interest in learning about how pumping in one part of the watershed will affect water availability and quality in distant areas.

Figure 6: Flood and Flow Committe Meeting (above) & Figure 7: Finding bits of an old Skeleton (left)

Now, the summer has passed, and monsoons have filled the valleys and creeks with recent rainfall. Further sampling is required but will have to wait until the monsoon rain has washed away. Our hope is that through our analysis we will be able to better understand groundwater movement in the mountains so that decisions around groundwater use can be more informed. We also hope to better understand how variations in climate will impact water availability in the mountains and how vulnerable the springs are to these variations as well as groundwater pumping. Many of the Patagonians who helped identifying springs will be able to monitor these vulnerable springs and note changes overtime.

Loren Eisley says, “if there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water”. Such a feeling is evident in the middle of May, as the desert heat seems to have desiccated every drainage and creek, yet deep in the mountains, with a GPS and a local guide, one can stumble upon springs and ominous adits that leak water from deep within the mountain. Contained in that water is information on the water’s past and the plumbing system of the mountains. The clues that water contains will help to answer some of the mysteries of the mountains and help define the future of the area.

Save it for a rainy day: Roof-Harvesting Rainwater in the Sonoran Desert

Monday, December 9, 2019

Today, water shortages affect 1 out of 9 people. To put this in perspective, imagine a room with 9 people in it, 8 of those people may grab a cup full of water from a pitcher in the room but 1 person must walk thirty minutes for the same cup of water. Water shortages are not limited to dry environments, like Tucson, places with a stable water supply can, unfortunately, lack the infrastructure to provide access to safe drinking water. Imagine you were that unlucky person who had to walk for a drink of water. However, there are places where you do not have to walk thirty minutes because there is abundant groundwater but the infrastructure to supply is yet to be constructed. You may be thinking, drilling wells, pumping the groundwater, treating it to safe drinking standards and designing the delivery system will be rather costly. It is. But are there economical alternatives that can provide safe drinking water to rural communities around the globe?  Luckily for us, there are, and one we have been practicing for over 4,000 years: rainwater harvesting.

The capturing and storing of rainwater goes back thousands of years to when we first started to farm the land and needed to find new ways of irrigating crops. In dry climates, collecting the rainfall often meant the difference between life and death for communities. With urbanization, the need to conserve water fell away in the last thousand years. Today, global water shortages return us to this old-fashioned, low technology and critical part of sustainable living. A common technique that has been used for hundreds of years in India, Brazil, and China is to build water harvesting systems on top of the roofs of houses. It’s a simple technology that has spread across the world, particularly to countries such as Honduras, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, and the United States. Together we can combat water shortages by conserving, protecting and maximizing our existing water supply, roof-harvested rainwater can be reused for irrigation and garden, laundry and toilet flushing!

What is the first thought that comes to mind as you hear the rainfall? Is it an image of children jumping from puddle to puddle? Or perhaps you think of petrichor: that pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. These thoughts also rush to my mind as I attempt to grasp that idle umbrella that has been hiding quite successfully beneath a heap of cardigans overflowing the coat rack.  With the umbrella on hand, I step into the rain. As I stand motionless under the umbrella I see the raindrops fall vertically, yet I remain dry and I think of rainwater quality. As an engineer, I wonder how raindrops form. As a chemist, I ponder what chemicals exist peacefully almost unnoticeable within a raindrop? Water is an interconnected system. What is poured on the ground today can end up in our drinking water years later. If we plan to use roof-harvested rainwater for food production and possibly drinking, perhaps an important query is what is the quality of a raindrop? Sir Isaac Newton once said, “What we know is a drop, what we do not know is an ocean.”

Visualize a raindrop as it falls on your roof and travels down to a collection reservoir. At this moment, you try to remember the last time you cleaned it. Suddenly, you recall the three buckets of sealants you applied for protection last summer and the eight lines of ingredients you did not recognize. Envision that electric blue plastic reservoir a used for capturing and storing that has been sitting outside all summer in the heat.  What is that blue plastic reservoir even made out of? Could some of the materials we use to harvest rainwater dissolve into that water?

 Currently, national rainwater quality standards for both potable and non-potable domestic usages are yet to be determined. My dissertation research explores the presence or absence of chemical pollutants in rainwater.  My goal is to identify and quantify chemical pollutants in rooftop harvested rainwater samples, our overall goal is to generate a dataset that will inform guidelines and recommendations for safe, harvested rainwater use. My desire to spotlight this issue extends even to children, the smallest victims of water pollution. With the help of CLIMAS, I will be producing a book on the topics of rain formation, water conservation, pollution and uses which children would illustrate and for which I will provide age-appropriate explanations.

The Story of H2O: Informal Water Provision in Nairobi’s Low-income Settlements

Monday, December 9, 2019

“Nairobi is a city of opportunities” said Mwangi – a 26-year old man who worked as an assistant to a private water provider. Mwangi’s job was to keep a check on the water pipes and kiosks that this employer recently installed in the settlements of Mukuru to sell water at a price of 5 Kenyan Shillings ($0.05) per 20-liter jerrycan. Mwangi aspired to start his own water business one day, as he explained, “Sister, in this city, water is the most valuable possession one would have. If I can run a water business consistently, it is pesa ya haraka – cash cow/quick money.” Responding to the perplexed expression on my face, he said, “It is simple, just work on making the right connections, with the right people.” Every year I go to Nairobi to conduct fieldwork, Mwangi’s words echo in my mind. What makes selling water so lucrative? Who are the right people to make connections with? I also ponder the tone of ease, self-evidence with which Mwangi called it a ‘cash cow’. It appeared to suggest that the question mark on my face was rather naïve, ignorant of the realities of urban life in Nairobi city.

Figure 1: Cart full of Water Containers

In Africa, over half of the urban population (61.7%) lives in informal[1] settlements (Habitat, 2013). Almost 50% of urban population in Africa resorts to private small-scale providers such as street vendors, water resellers, kiosks and water tankers (Dardenne, 2006) with an increasing figure of 80% in urban centers in Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Sudan (Kariuki & Schwartz, 2005).

Figure 2: Water Pipes

I conduct research in Mukuru, a low-income informal settlement located in the eastern periphery of Nairobi.  Mornings in Mukuru are considered the most happening time of the day. Thousands of women, chatting and laughing, parade through narrow, dusty lanes, to collect water, a commodity that is considered to be the most valuable in Mukuru. In this densely packed settlement which houses 300,000 people, 97% of residents do not have water connection in their homes. Due to the lack of government-operated water supply, informal water providers, locally called ‘water cartels’ control water provision through laying water pipes and kiosks in the settlement. They buy water from the publicly owned municipal water company at a highly subsidized rate and sell it. As Mwangi rightly mentioned, “make connections with the right people”, informal water provision networks are run with covert sanction from the water company employees by acquiring illegal water connections, transporting this water through pipelines to Mukuru. These pipelines run in line with open sewers and garbage dumps, residents paying a price 4 times more than the average water price in Nairobi. Every year, during the monsoons, there are severe cholera outbreaks in Mukuru, that have immense impact on the communities’ health and economic wellbeing. My research asks: (1) Who are informal water providers? How do they run their water business and what is the spread of their networks? (2) What does it mean to have connections with the right people? How does the formal municipal water governance system interact with informal water providers? Finally, (3) How do households in Mukuru experience this water provision system? This summer, I conducted fieldwork with women and households, non-profit groups, Nairobi government officials and the cartels themselves to understand the improvised water networks in Mukuru.  I conducted interviews, group discussions, household surveys and mapping exercises with multiple stakeholders to understand how these water systems could be improved and leveraged to fulfill the ‘water for all mandate’ underscored in the Sustainable Development Goals. Fieldwork reveals that the services of informal water providers are valued except for some negative externalities – affordability and quality. Water providers played a pivotal role in making water accessible and reliable due to the spread of their networks. Therefore, as a part of the research, I am closely working with Nairobi County employees to see how interventions could be carried out in terms of monitoring prices and fixing leaks in pipes. Afterall, water providers are local people like Mwangi, who can fill in gaps in settlements where supply municipal water is difficult due to land tenure issues.

As my fieldwork goes forward, I realize that the story of Nairobi is that of many urban areas, where water insecurity is a product of water management and not scarcity per se. Moreover, these heterogenous water systems, tells us about the relationship between ecology and politics, between empowerment and disempowerment through the flow of water. My dissertation research is an investigation into the story that is hidden behind the flow of this H2O – piped from reservoirs, transported, bought and sold, transported again by small-scale providers, stored, sold to people and finally led back into the nature in the form of sewage. A story is hidden somewhere in the flow of this water that tells us many things about the city’s history, its infrastructures and diverse practices of its people for everyday survival.

Figure 3: A Closer inspection of some Pipies


[1] Informal settlements lack basic services such as water, sanitation and tenure security vis-à-vis the land or the dwellings. Mukuru settlements are informal “slum” settlements characterized by poverty and large agglomerations of dilapidated housing located in the most hazardous urban land.