This winter gave us record snow and rain, but what did it do for the drought?

By Elizabeth Whitman | Phoenix New Times

This winter has been an astonishingly wet one for Arizona. Last week, Phoenix saw yet more rain. In February, Flagstaff ground to a halt, blanketed by record snows. An overwhelmed water treatment plant in the San Tan Valley overflowed, dumping some 20 million gallons of treated wastewater into Queen Creek. And last October? It was wettest ever recorded in Arizona.

Mother Nature has filled local reservoirs and soaked the ground with much-needed moisture. Regionally, it even seems to be staving off imminent shortages on the Colorado River.

In the past 20 years of drought, Arizona had seen very few winters
as wet as this last one.

But the Southwest needs several more winters like this before it can emerge from the regional drought, experts say.

“This winter has been excellent as far as the rain and snow we’ve received in Arizona,” said Mark O’Malley, the lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Phoenix. But, he added, “this is just one year, and one year doesn’t make up for a couple decades of drought.”

In the past 20 years of drought, Arizona had seen very few winters as wet as this last one. In the past seven years, he said, winters have been exceptionally dry.

Phoenix has seen record rain four times since October, when the National Weather Service begins its so-called water year. The most recent was February 21, when 1.01 inches of rain drenched Phoenix, shattering the record of just under three-quarters of an inch in 1973, according to the National Weather Service.

In the mountains in northern Arizona, along the Mogollon Rim, snowfall since October 1 is now at about 150 percent of the average, O’Malley said. At the beginning of this winter, Lake Roosevelt, the largest reservoir on the Salt River, was less than half full. “By the end of this spring, we’re probably going to be up near 75 percent of capacity,” he said. “That’s a very nice jump.”

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