DROUGHT MONITOR: Dry conditions ease across Northern Arizona

PRESCOTT -- The new year brought with it good news for Arizona's drought situation.

The latest report issued Thursday, Jan. 28, by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, shows nearly 43 percent of Arizona is no longer experiencing any form of broad-scale drought.

"It's been a very unremarkable, gradual improvement over several months," said Mark Svoboda, the report's author and climate-based monitoring program area leader at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

According to the report, about 41 percent of the state is still marked at the center's first level. That first level, coded as "D0 - Abnormally Dry," and just 16 percent is in the next level, coded as "D1 - Moderate Drought."

What's more, no part of the state was in the severe, extreme or exceptional drought classifications.

Compare that to the report issued the same week in 2015, when 3 percent of the state was in extreme drought, 80 percent of Arizona was in severe to moderate drought, and all areas of the state were experiencing some sort of climate dryness.

The most notable change was in Apache County, eastern Coconino County and northern Apache County, all of which went from abnormally dry to no drought classification in the last two weeks.

Southeast Yavapai County, from Crown King to Black Canyon City and east toward Payson, also saw a downgrade from severe drought to abnormally dry over the same period.

Much of the rest of Yavapai County has continued in its abnormally dry classification as long-term drought conditions still impact the region.

Svoboda said the change is mostly attributed to a favorable monsoon, though the winter has helped keep the momentum going in the right direction.

"Arizona has been a very interesting case study this winter," he said.

The 2015-16 winter is considered by climatologists and meteorologists to be a strong El Nino year, and normally that brings more precipitation than Arizona has received this year.

Svoboda said the increased rain and snow happened farther north, in parts of Utah and Nevada, but hasn't happened yet this season in Arizona.

"It's actually not a bad thing," he said, indicating too much precipitation can lead to flooding, which can often lead to property damage, injury and loss of life.

Despite not seeing quite the anticipated precipitation, Svododa said many parts of northern Arizona are above normal for their water year, starting Oct. 1, 2015.

"We've seen a shift toward wet," he said.

He said there are no longer any broad-scale, short-term drought impacts across Arizona, and for that matter most of the West. But several long-term water factors, like reservoir levels, still impact the region.

"This doesn't mean the region is drought-free by any means, but it's certainly a good start to the water year as we sit near the midpoint of the snow season," he said.

Unfortunately, the situation hasn't improved as much for the White Mountains region. That's the 19 percent of the state that's still in moderate drought. Still, that area no longer is classified as severe drought, as it was in December.

Across the West, Svoboda said, there is improvement. Short-term impacts subsided in California, and long-term drought conditions have eased across the Pacific Northwest.

Megan Schwitzer, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Bellemont, said much of Arizona's increased precipitation has been from the Mogollon Rim to the Four Corners region, where annual rainfall totals are above their three-year averages.

Winslow, for instance, had its second-wettest water year on record in the 2014-15 water year.

"Last year was really wet despite last winter being below average for snowfall," Schwitzer said.

This winter is looking much better. Snow monitoring stations across northeast Arizona show snowfall between 25 and 100 percent above their 30-year averages.

Schwitzer said the short-term forecast shows the current trend continuing, though she noted the recent days with highs above 50 have cost the region some of its annual snowfall.

"It's kind of tricky when we have such long breaks between storms," she said.

That's expected to change this week.

"We are looking at a more active pattern starting next week," Schwitzer said.

Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen.

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