Southwest Climate Outlook May 2022

Date issued

Monthly/Seasonal Precipitation and Temperature: Apr precipitation was between below average and record dry in Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 1a). Apr temperatures were above average to much above average in Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 1b). Water year precipitation is now almost entirely below average or drier in Arizona and New Mexico, with widespread pockets of much below normal, and small pockets of record dry (Fig. 2).

Drought: The May 10 U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) shows increases in categorical severity of drought characterizations in Arizona and particularly in New Mexico (Fig. 3), but drought conditions are found across the entire southwestern United States. Long term accumulated precipitation deficits are a factor in these designations, but the relatively dry conditions over the water year to date are also playing their part in the drought.

Snowpack & Streamflow: May 1 is well past peak snowpack conditions, and snow water equivalent (SWE) is quickly waning but is well below median even in upper elevation regions (Fig. 4). May 1 streamflow forecasts are below median in both the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins (Fig. 5).

Water Supply: Most of the reservoirs in Arizona and New Mexico are at or below last year’s values. Most are also below their long-term average (see Arizona and New Mexico reservoir storage). The tier one shortage declaration for the Colorado River in 2022 and low water levels in the Rio Grande highlight ongoing concerns about the intersection of long term drought and water resource management.

Wildfire: Fire season is well underway in the Southwest with numerous fires in Arizona and New Mexico, including the devastating Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Complex fire. Weather has been particularly challenging with very low humidity and unusually strong winds that led to numerous red flag days. The NIFC fire outlooks for June show above normal fire risk for much of Arizona and most of New Mexico (Fig. 6), with some relief predicted with the onset of monsoon in late June and into July, although the exact timing of that increased storm activity is unpredictable, and brings increased risk of ignition from lightning.

ENSO Tracker: ENSO remains at La Niña status according to most outlooks. Previously, the forecast consensus was on a transition to ENSO-neutral conditions by summer, but there are now some indications of the potential for La Nina to persist into Fall (see ENSO-tracker for details).

Published by the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), with support from University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, the Arizona State Climate Office, and the New Mexico State Climate office.

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