Could This Year's El Nino Solve Arizona's Drought?

By Will Stone
Published: Friday, July 24, 2015 - 6:09pm
National Park Service
Lake Mead.

Scientists are making some big predictions about El Nino’s potential to bring a wet winter and spring to the West. But can you solve a drought that has built up over almost a decade in just one year?

No, not quite, said Mike Crimmins, a climatologist at the University of Arizona.

The reason, he said, is that the drought has stressed ecosystems, depleted streams and stalled groundwater recharge for years. Reversing that will take multiple rainy seasons. And while the current strong El Nino outlook could fill reservoirs on the Salt River, that may not get rid of Arizona’s water worries.

“Some of these El Nino events become very very focused in their storm track which is over Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, which might leave the Upper Basin out of that wet signal,” said Crimmins.

In other words, the Southwest could get lots of precipitation, but northern states, like Utah and Colorado, could stay dry, without much snowpack — that would be bad news for Arizona because 40 percent of its water comes from the Colorado River, which is fed by run off in the Upper Basin.

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