Jan 18, 2023 - News

Phoenix's above-average winter rainfall a good sign, but more needed to reverse drought

Phoenix Rainfall Index in January
Data: National Weather Service; Note: Gauges do not record precipitation less than 0.04 inches, explaining 2014's average rainfall of 0"; Chart: Axios Visuals

With 1.23 inches of rain this month, Phoenix has already gotten almost a half inch more than the 10-year January average, according to the National Weather Service.

  • And in December, we got 0.7 inches more than average.

Meanwhile: Flagstaff's snowfall from October to now is about 2 feet above normal, NWS meteorologist Mark O'Malley tells us.

  • They've gotten almost 40 inches just this month.

Why it matters: Arizona and other Western states that are part of the Colorado River Basin are in the midst of a 23-year megadrought that ranks as the region's worst in 1,200 years.

State of play: O'Malley says the steady rain we've seen in the Valley will allow the soil to soak up the moisture, which is good for vegetation. The snow up north will help with forest health and provide some runoff into our reservoirs.

Yes but: One good winter isn't enough to reverse the long-term drought in the West, he said. We'd need above-average precipitation for multiple years across the entire western region to really see an impact.

  • “While the amount of precipitation received in the lower basin and from tributary inflows helps, rainfall from recent winter storms, alone, isn’t enough to offset the decades-long reservoir declines," Bureau of Reclamation Public Affairs Specialist Doug Hendrix told KLAS in Las Vegas.

Zoom out: The unseasonably wet winters in California and Nevada, parts of which also draw from the Colorado River, have helped the water levels of Lake Mead tick up ever so slightly.

  • As of last week, the lake level stood about 0.3 feet higher than projected in December, KTLA reported.

The bottom line: "Even if it is a wet year, it could take four, five or six of those to bring our Colorado River back into balance," Central Arizona Project general manager Brenda Burman told us.

What's next: Our fun in the rain has likely come to an end, at least for now. O'Malley says we'll see cool weather but sunnier skies in the Valley this week.

  • There will still be some precipitation in northern Arizona, though.

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