By Tammy Gray –
Improved conditions in the Little Colorado River Basin’s short-term drought status have reversed, and the area is now, unsurprisingly, classified as experiencing both extreme and severe drought.
According to a short-term drought report provided June 28 by the National Climatic Data Center, the northern half of Navajo County is experiencing extreme drought, while the southern half is experiencing severe drought. The short-term report issued in May listed the northern portion of the county as experiencing severe drought, and the southern portion as experiencing moderate drought. In May 2011, the short-term drought status report listed most of Navajo County as experiencing moderate drought conditions, and the northwest portion of the state was not experiencing any drought conditions at all.
The changes have led not only to increased wildfire hazard, but have also reduced the amount of grass available for cattle and wildlife. The report notes, “The drought impacts at this time include very low stream flow in most of the state and dry rangeland conditions. Stock ponds are low or empty, necessitating water hauling for both livestock and wildlife.”
Worsening drought conditions are a result of lack of precipitation in April and May. According to a Navajo County precipitation report, out of 23 rain gauges monitored across the county, only one recorded any precipitation during the month of May. A gauge near the Pinetop Country Club recorded a half-inch of precipitation for the month. Gauges in Winslow, Holbrook, Snowflake/Taylor, Show Low and Heber all had readings of zero.
The same rainfall gauges all had readings of less than a half-inch in April. Two gauges in Winslow reported an average of .16 of an inch of rain, while four gauges in the Holbrook and Joseph City area reported an average of .10 of an inch of rain. Three gauges in the Snowflake/Taylor area indicated an average of .13 of an inch of precipitation. Gauges in Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside reported identical averages of .35 of an inch, while gauges in Heber reported .34 of an inch of rain in April.
Final reports for June rainfall were not available as of press time.
Although Navajo County officials have been told to expect a drier than usual monsoon season, the short-term drought status summary produced by the Arizona Drought Monitoring Technical Committee notes, “The forecasts call for warmer than normal conditions through the end of the year, but there are no good indicators of how wet or dry the monsoon may be.”
It also points out, “The forests are very dry, and strong winds over the past month have increased the fire danger and helped fan the flames of several fires in Arizona and New Mexico. The high fire danger is not expected to decrease until the monsoon rainfall begins.”
The long-term drought status, which is provided quarterly and was last updated in early May, describes all of Navajo County and most of Northern Arizona as experiencing abnormally dry conditions as compared to conditions two, three and four years ago.
According to the long-term report, a lack of winter precipitation has left all watersheds across the state experiencing some form of drought. The report states, “Although many winter storms affected the West, few of them tracked far enough south to reach Arizona, and those that did were cold and relatively dry. This effectively restricted the precipitation to the northern watersheds and the higher elevations.”
Both the short-term and the long-term reports point out that conditions are not expected to improve until after the monsoon season, and drought recovery will depend on both the strength of monsoon storms and the amount of moisture received in the coming winter months.