101 days without rain and counting By Mike Branom, Tribune January 27, 2006
Its a dry drought. Rain last fell at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, home to the Valleys official measuring station, on Oct. 18. Thats a rainless stretch of 101 days tying the record set in the winter of 1999.
Are there any clouds on the horizon? The National Weather Service doesnt think so: By the looks of things, said a report issued Thursday, this could go on a while.
A weather phenomenon called La Nia is causing the Valleys sunny skies and warm, dry weather. During La Nia, the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean are unusually cold. The effects are global and profound, from greater numbers of Atlantic hurricanes to dry Arizona winters.
If the rain isnt falling on Arizona, then where is it? Look to the Northwest, where the jet stream is steering storm after storm. Many Washington cities recently sloshed through a month or more of rain. Olympias 35 consecutive rainy days broke a record. Seattle endured 27 straight days, creating a gloom that not even a triple shot of espresso could break.
The Valley is at the edge of a desert, and deserts are dusty. But rain tamps down loose dirt. With no rain, the dust can billow up and cause pollution. This winter, its been routine for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to issue advisories and health watches because of airborne dust.
At first glance, the Valleys water situation seems to be OK. Salt River Project is reporting its reservoir system is at 78 percent capacity up from 59 percent one year ago. But 2005 brought a wet winter, and that refilled the lakes along the Salt and Verde rivers. Unless Arizona soon receives a drenching, look for the lake levels to drop.
The lack of rain is a boon to golfers, hikers and lovers of Arizonas other outdoor charms. Who can resist blue skies and warm days? But all this sunshine comes with a price. Skiers and snowboarders have had to head elsewhere for the fresh powder. Boaters soon will be warily watching the shrinking lakes. And, on an aesthetic note, forget about an explosion of wildflowers like the East Valley enjoyed last spring.
2006 is shaping up to be a very active, early and intense fire season. So say the fire experts at the Southwest Coordination Center. Combine last years wet winter which built up an abundance of flammable flora with the continuing drought, and conditions are set for Arizona to become a tinderbox. Texas and Oklahoma are suffering through long-running droughts, and those states have endured deadly wildfires.
Contact Mike Branom by email, or phone (480) 898-6536