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Wed, Feb. 26

After warmest winter on record in Arizona, monsoon could be a wet one

File photo of torrential monsoon rain drenching Williams in 2012.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

File photo of torrential monsoon rain drenching Williams in 2012.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - This winter was the warmest ever in Flagstaff and warmest on record for the state of Arizona. Precipitation was average thanks in part to a March 1 storm. But when it comes to snowfall, northern Arizona fell short.

Brian Klimowski, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Bellemont, said that a storm around March 1 brought precipitation back above average after a lackluster winter.

"And we haven't seen a darn thing since," he said.

Klimowski said without that late season storm, northern Arizona precipitation would be about 60 percent of normal.

"And we'd be thinking fire, fire, fire," he said. "Many of us are already thinking that because it's been such a dry spring anyway. But this (storm) was highly beneficial."

When forecasting snowfall in the area, Klimowski said it can be hard to give the public exact numbers.

When the snow level hovers at 7,000 feet, Klimowski said forecasting the amount of snow that will fall in a particular area is tricky.

"Below 7,000 feet, 0-6 inches. Above 7,000 feet, 6 to twenty inches. Go for it. And that's unfortunately just how we have to communicate it," he said. "Sometimes it can be very challenging."

Summer Monsoon outlook

Klimowski said predicting how wet a monsoon season will be is again difficult but that predictions in the last few years have been pretty accurate.

The Weather Service puts potential monsoon activity in three categories: below normal, near normal or above normal.

"Essentially we're looking at a big window of possibility," he said.

Klimowski said this year's monsoon could be slightly above normal. The monsoon could still be below normal but the probability is a little greater that northern Arizona could see a bit more precipitation this year.

"We've been blessed, and I use that term, two years in a row with very good monsoons. I mean they've been top 10," Klimowski said. "I think we had our second greatest of all time two years ago and last year was a top five, top 10 monsoon."

Temperatures will continue to be above normal.

With a small snow pack and light winter, Klimowski said sometimes monsoons set up a little earlier than normal. Monsoons begin in response to the heating over the southwest in the Four Corners area, causing low pressure that turn the winds in a different direction bringing moisture to the region.

"If there isn't snow on the ground to keep that area cool and moist, it heats up faster and might start the monsoon a little sooner," Klimowski said. "So we might see a tendency towards that this year. We'll see."

El Nino

When Pacific Sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal, it is an El Nino year and when temperatures are lower than normal it is a La Nina year.

Klimowski said temperatures edged up into a weak El Nino late this winter. El Nino does not have much effect on the monsoon but a strong El Nino often results in a wet winter. He added that El Nino could continue to strengthen producing a wet winter next year,

"We'll keep our eyes on this, it's changing all the time," he said.

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