Parts of Arizona show decline in drought levels

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- A rainy summer has left parts of Arizona less dry, but climate officials warned Tuesday that overall, the state is in its 20th year of a long-term drought.

The latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows parts of northern Arizona are no longer under drought watch. The rest of the state has varying levels of drought, but overall, only 2 percent of the state is under an extreme drought. In June, 20 percent was in the extreme category, it shows.

State climatologist Nancy Selover said that the Flagstaff area and northern parts of Gila and Yavapai counties received a significant bump in precipitation over the last few months.

But northern Arizona could just as easily fall back into the drought cycle, depending on what happens from December to February, Selover said.

"If we have another dry winter, they're definitely going to bounce back (into drought levels)," Selover said.

A drought occurs when there is a lack of any precipitation or moisture for an extended period of time. But the threshold varies from place to place, Selover said. As a result, drought is also measured by how dry a city is and what percentage of its average yearly rainfall it has received.

Parts of northern Arizona experienced a series of monsoon storms this season. Weather officials say the monsoon season typically spans from mid-June to the end of September.

Brian Klimowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff, said northern Arizona has received 15.5 inches of rain so far. Normally, the area receives about half of that amount, Klimowski said.

In the southwest, Yuma County has also been taken off drought-status. The city of Yuma had been in a drought since December 2011, Selover said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that metropolitan Phoenix and some parts of southern Arizona went from being at severe drought levels to just abnormally dry.

The Arizona Department of Water and Resources is also noting some of the shifts that have resulted from a rainy summer. The department's Sandy Fabritz-Whitney said rain in the Western states has added to reservoir systems the state depends on.

"The Colorado River system is still at 50 percent capacity. Those large reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, play a very significant role for protecting us against these variables," Fabritz-Whitney said.

In the case of Phoenix, more rain needs to appear in the reservoirs than in the city itself, Selover said.

"When it rains on our head, it doesn't necessarily fill our reservoirs. If it rains in reservoirs but not on our head, we're in good shape," she said.


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