Southwest rainfall a 'bandaid fix' to extreme drought

Jessica Storm
·4 min read

Rain and snow sweeping across the West will be a "bandaid fix" for the ravaging drought situation in the region, particularly in the Southwest.

About 62% of the West has been suffering under severe drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

After last year's weak monsoon season failed to bring the Southwest much rain, a particularly dry winter left residents wanting for more precipitation. Several cities in the region have recorded under 70% of the normal rainfall.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, received only 32% of its average rainfall since last October, the beginning of the water year, and reported less than an inch of rain since the beginning of 2021. Over half of New Mexico is under exceptional drought.

Furthermore, Las Vegas and Phoenix have both only had 29% of average rainfall since October. Las Vegas is another city that has yet to reach the 1-inch rainfall mark since January. About 58% of Arizona is considered under exceptional drought.

"An abnormally dry winter and spring caused portions of the West to fall into the throes of a significant drought," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Ryan Adamson.

Not to mention the intense heat waves places like Phoenix have been subject to recently. The city underwent a 13-day stretch of high temperatures at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit to start the month of April, when it usually reports highs in the lower 80s this time of year.

With 38% of the normal rainfall this water year, Sacramento, California, reached the 80s several times this month and even peaked at 91 once on April 18. Las Vegas also had several days at 91 F early this month, putting them over 15 degrees above normal.

This radar image from early Monday morning, April 26, 2021, shows rain and snow across the Southwest. (AccuWeather)

Thankfully, a brief reprieve from the hot and dry weather is rolling into the region.

Wet weather dampened the Northwest for much of the weekend and began to reach California on Sunday. Fresno, California, experienced its first rainy day since March 20 at the end of the weekend.

Across Northern California, heavy thundershowers even produced small hail that covered some roadways.

The rain started to reach Southern California early Monday morning.

Showery weather will persist across the region throughout Monday, expanding eastward through all of the Four Corners states by Tuesday.

"In the wake of the rainstorm, conditions will remain chilly across California during the middle of the week," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.

Those in rain-starved areas will be disappointed to hear, however, that this new precipitation won't help much with the drought status, and will only temporarily ease the wildfire risk.

In fact, several areas are expected to feature a high fire risk on Monday, as the wet weather stays generally west and dry, gusty winds are kicked up. This event just won't be enough to "overcome the staggering rainfall deficits," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike LeSeney.

Gusty winds can be a huge proponent in the spreading of wildfires, as well as other hazards that can come with dangerously high wind speeds.

The Storm Prediction Center warns of both enhanced and critical levels of fire risk in the Four Corners region and southern Plains on Monday. Increased fire danger can extend all the way into Nebraska.

To make matters worse, dry weather is anticipated after this short-lived rain and snow event.

"Behind the storm bringing needed precipitation to California and the rest of the Southwest, a broad area of high pressure is poised to build over the region for the middle and latter part of the week," AccuWeather Meteorologist Reneé Duff said.

High pressure is expected to even stretch into the Northwest for a time, according to Pastelok.

"This will dry the atmosphere out, as well as heat things up -- two things the drought-stricken region does not need," Duff added.

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Thursday is expected to start another run of 90+ degrees in Phoenix that will lead into the weekend. Even Fresno, California, a city with highs typically remaining in the upper 70s in late April, is anticipated to have a two-day run of 90s and above on Thursday and Friday.

"Temperatures could hit the 90-degree Fahrenheit mark for the first time this year in downtown Los Angeles, and triple-digit heat is almost a certainty in the deserts," Duff said. These temperatures would be about 10-15 degrees above normal for the end of April.

"High temperatures could even approach record levels in some areas," Duff added.

Las Vegas is forecast to reach 97 on Friday, which would approach the 1981 record of 99 F.

The weather pattern is forecast to change again, though. The upper-level high that will bring the heat to California late this week will likely break down during the first week of May, according to Pastelok.

"A shift to an increasingly progressive pattern may allow for another potent storm to take aim at the West Coast, perhaps allowing precipitation to reach California, the Great Basin and the central Rocky Mountains," Pastelok said. Conditions are likely to cool again.

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