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Serving: West

Heat and persistent drought plague the West

Todd Fitchette wfp-todd-fitchette-lake-mead-24.jpg
Drought conditions are projected to continue across the West in 2021.
Projections paint a protracted dry period setting itself up once again across the West

The weather nerd in me picked an interesting year to change my venue.

Outside of a few years in the Army and a couple others here and there, I always called California "home." In late April I permanently changed my address to one of the sunniest places on Earth. It surely was one of the warmest as well in 2020.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center paints a dismal outlook for much of the West as the lack of rain and snow continues to paint government maps in shades of brown depicting significant and persistent drought. Significant in this La Nina year is how dry it is among the major watersheds throughout the West. This is nothing new.

The U.S. seasonal drought outlook paints persistent drought in the watersheds feeding the rivers Rio Grande, Colorado, Gila, San Joaquin, and Sacramento. Systems further north including the Columbia and Snake rivers appear to be in a little better shape currently. The upper Missouri River is a mixed bag as Montana looks to be okay while much of North Dakota persists in drought.

Northern California and Oregon seem to be getting some help lately with storms, though the big savings deposits of snow had not yet appeared by the first of January. History reveals there is still time to blanket the mountains with snow, but optimism should remain guarded.

Much of the discussion this year in Arizona was the "nonsoon" season that spit and sputtered, but never became the full monsoon season responsible for the lion's share of annual rainfall in places like southeast Arizona. While parts of Arizona like Yuma generally receive most of their annual precipitation during the winter season, growing regions southeast of Tucson that include wine grapes, pecans, pistachios, a little cotton and assorted other crops, can receive over half their annual rainfall during the summer monsoon season.

A wine grape grower I spoke with in southeast Arizona said the monsoons can allow him to cut irrigation sets during the summer months. This summer he kept his irrigation running all summer as the annual rains were insufficient.

Summer 2020 was the hottest, driest monsoon season on record in Arizona, according to the National Weather Service. Yuma went 242 days without measurable rain after recording its second wettest March on record.

How hot was it?

Phoenix crushed its record of the number of days at or above 110 at 53. Yuma officially hit 120 degrees Labor Day weekend and recorded a total of 182 days – half the year – of high temperatures at or above 90 degrees.

If only I had a dollar for everyone that's told me "but it's a dry heat." That true for about 10 months of the year -- something I had to learn for myself this summer. The other two months -- they have names that cannot be repeated here -- are a veritable sauna with dew points exceeding 70 degrees and daytime highs between 110 and 120. If that's the punishment I must suffer for all those sunny winter days in the mid-70s, I'll take it.

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