Southwest Climate Outlook January 2016
Assistant Research Professor, Arizona Institutes for Resilience
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, School of Anthropology
Ben McMahan joined CLIMAS after completing a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Arizona. His dissertation research was on hurricanes and disaster on the U.S. Gulf Coast, where he focused on
- Human interactions in dynamic social and environmental contexts,
- Risk perception and landscape changes during and after disaster, and
- Social network and policy responses to governance issues related to the acute threats of disaster; as they layer onto long term environmental issues and landscape scale changes.
He was also a key contributor to UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) collaborative/trans-disciplinary research on the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the US Oil and Gas industry (2007-2011), and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010-2013).
At CLIMAS, his research activities included tracing how climate information is incorporated into regional decision maker networks, leading CLIMAS team research on the risks and effects of climate extremes, and collaborative research on the effects of climate variability on phenology and temporality of native plants in the region. He was also responsible for working to develop collaborative research opportunities and outreach efforts at CLIMAS, and as part of ongoing assessment and science/strategic planning, he contributed to strategic planning used to prioritize future research and outreach directions. He also coordinated publication of the monthly Southwest Climate Outlook, produced the Southwest Climate Podcasts, and was the online editor for CLIMAS’ blog - Southwestern Oscillations.
In this Issue:
- Climate Summary (Below)
- Maps & Images
- El Niño Tracker
- Arizona & New Mexico Reservoir Volumes
- Early Season (Oct-Dec) El Niño Recap
- CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellows
Precipitation: Over the past 30 days, the cumulative precipitation totals for Arizona and New Mexico were a mix of above- and below-average values (Fig. 1). Thirty-day averages often span wet and dry periods, while the week-to-week totals show considerably more variability. For example, precipitation totals in southern Arizona were buoyed by a series of storms that brought significant rainfall to the southwestern U.S. in the first week of January, which was preceded by a relatively below-average December and followed by an extended dry period in mid-January (see El Niño Tracker for more commentary and discussion of recent precipitation trends).
Temperature: December cooled off in much of the Southwest. Most of Arizona recorded normal to below-normal temperatures, while New Mexico was mostly normal to above normal, especially along the eastern half of the state (Fig. 2). Globally, 2015 was the warmest year on record and was among the top five warmest years for many western states (Fig. 3), and was the second warmest year on record for the U.S. overall.
Snowpack and Water Supply: Relatively frequent winter storm activity has brought impressive snowpack levels and snow water equivalent (SWE) percent of normal values to much of the western U.S., including above-normal values across almost all of the basins in Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 4). Increased winter precipitation is an expected pattern given the current strong El Niño event. Later this spring, we will have a more accurate understanding of El Niño’s contribution to winter precipitation and a better sense of how temperature affected patterns of rain and snow and the contributions to water supply (See reservoir totals).
Drought: Long-term drought conditions persist across much of central and eastern Arizona along with the western edge of central New Mexico (Fig. 5). Recent runs of average to above-average precipitation have helped mitigate some of the short-term drought conditions, but we are continually reminded that multi-year droughts, such as those we experienced during much of the 21st century, will require multi-year periods to fully recover. El Niño offers hope for additional drought relief, particularly if above-average precipitation over the winter helps saturate soils and build snowpack in the region, boosting reservoir storage during springtime snowmelt runoff events.
El Niño Tracker: We are in the middle of a strong El Niño event forecast to remain in place through Spring 2016. We can expect variable weather throughout the winter season, but we anticipate more winter precipitation events and a higher cumulative total at the end of the cool season (see El Niño Tracker).
Precipitation & Temperature Forecast: The January 21 NOAA-Climate Prediction Center three month seasonal outlook predicts above-average precipitation for most of the Southwest this winter, with progressively increasing chances of above-average precipitation as you move south (Fig. 6, top). Temperature forecasts are split, with elevated chances for above-average temperatures along the West Coast and the Pacific Northwest, and increased chances for below-average temperatures centered over Texas and and southeastern New Mexico (Fig. 6, bottom).