Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 3, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Arizona's Nonsoon


  • ASU Professor of Climatology Randy Cerveny discusses the monsoon that turned out to be more of a “nonsoon” and how the once fierce Hurricane Jimena could bring some rain to our state.
Guests:
  • Randy Cerveny - Professor of Climatology, Arizona State University


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Today, Governor Brewer signed one of the eight budget bills she has on her desk. The bills signed provide funding for the department of public safety and addresses other criminal justice needs. No word on what she'll do with the remaining bills. She has until Saturday to sign them. Once a fierce category 4 hurricane, Jimena has been downgraded to a tropical storm and expected to weaken more but may bring needed moisture to Arizona. Here with an update is Randy Cerveny professor of climatology at ASU. Good to see you, thanks for joining us.

Randy Cerveny:
My pleasure.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about the hurricane and the monsoon, or shall we call it the non-soon? What has happened to the rain this summer?

Randy Cerveny:
This has been a dry summer. Normally we have about two and a half inches of rain for a normal monsoon. We only had half an inch at sky harbor this year. The big thing that's missing is moisture. It's like you need a gun, you need ammunition to put into that gun and the gun -- the moisture is our ammunition for the storms we have in the valley.

Ted Simons:
So ok, we didn't have much of a monsoon. Anywhere else around the state have one?

Randy Cerveny:
The extreme southeast part of the state has had a little bit more activity, but most of the moisture activity this year has been located in New Mexico than Arizona.

Ted Simons:
Is that something that habitually happens or as far as monsoons, this is a bad one?

Randy Cerveny:
I've never seen a normal monsoon, I think. But one thing we're interested in is the idea that the shift might have taken part as a result of El Nino. We're starting to see a warming of the Pacific Ocean which changes the air flow around the world. That may be part of the reason why there's a shift more to New Mexico this year.

Ted Simons:
If we're seeing an El Nino, doesn't that mean good winter rains?

Randy Cerveny:
In the past, the southern part of the United States and in particular the southwest, does experience winter rainfall and snowfall during an El Nino event. The question is how intense and we're watching it develop.

Ted Simons:
And El Nino is warming of the Pacific Ocean that happens at a certain time in a certain spot?

Randy Cerveny:
It refers to the Christ child because we see it normally in December. And happens off the coast of Peru. And that warming causes the jet stream to move and change from its normal location. To us, it brings up tropical moisture into Arizona and we get most rain in most monsoon years.

Ted Simons:
The last time we had a good El Nino, we had a hurricane.

Randy Cerveny:
1997 we had hurricane NORA that followed a track close to this one, but kept moving up and actually made landfall near rocky point, near Yuma, and it had died out, but it actually did dump about two and a half inches of rain in Yuma. So it gets that much rainfall, that's noticeable.

Ted Simons:
We could have some -- all signs point toward rain this winter.

Randy Cerveny:
And in particular this weekend. The storm itself, Jimena is not going to get into Arizona. But the remnant moisture, the water that's a part of it is going to be pushed up by Friday night.

Ted Simons:
Our closest brushes, was it NORA?

Randy Cerveny:
Probably was, that was almost a tropical storm when it made landfall near Yuma.

Ted Simons:
They're gangbusters and get to Baja and bump against the coast and --

Randy Cerveny:
Jimena was a category 4 and almost 5 before it got up to Cabo San Lucas. The other thing is that the ocean temperatures right along the Pacific Ocean, near the coast of Baja are cold. And that kills a hurricane rapidly.

Ted Simons:
Are we still in a drought?

Randy Cerveny:
Depends on how you define drought. We like to think of it as how much water is in reserve and they've been doing a good job of holding water in reserve. Farmers like to think of it, how dry is the ground? It's dry right now. So we're in a drought. It could be turned around by a couple of good storms but we're in a drought situation here.

Ted Simons:
Last question: No rain, very little rain this winter -- this summer, I should say, and we've got a hurricane wandering around out there. Global climate change at play at all, or no way to tell?

Randy Cerveny:
The fact that it's been such a mild hurricane season in the Atlantic and we've had more activity in the Pacific probably has to do with El Nino. Causes more hurricanes in the Pacific.

Ted Simons:
It was a pleasure to see you.

Randy Cerveny:
My pleasure.

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