How much will the Tucson rainstorms affect the current drought?

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 8:23 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Whenever the skies open up and we get several days of rain, it will generally prompt the question: Is this drought relief? The short answer is no, not so much. Tucson is in the midst of a 27 year extreme drought, so a few days of light rain, while welcome, won’t help much.

We were talking about this in 2010 and this is what our chief meteorologist Chuck George said at the time.

“We would need to get a four-foot rainfall in a year to make this completely go away. And we don’t want that. That would be devastating,” he said.

Which is generally exactly what is happening in California right now. It is suffering from the same sort of drought we are, and the rains two three or four times normal in some places, has brought flooding, destruction, and death. However, it has lifted the state out of the extreme drought to severe drought.

Whereas Arizona, despite some wet weather, still is, according to the maps, mostly abnormally dry. But it is showing improvement according to meterologist Erin Christensen.

“Looking at the year to year we have 32% of the state under moderate drought, one percent under severe drought, compared to nearly 60% a year ago. So that is a decrease but when we’re talking about being in the throes of a mega drought which has been ongoing across the desert southwest since 1999, it would take year after year after year after year of above average rainfall to even make a dent in that sort of status,” she said.

Even though the drought conditions persist, the recent rains will likely produce a pretty good, maybe spectacular wildflower season. Vegetation loves these gentle rains, making a trip to Picacho peak a must see destination in the spring time or even a trip up State Route 79 to Florence but once the temperatures rise and the plants die they go from a friend to foe.

Native wildflowers will burn and burn really quickly. They don’t burn hot so they don’t cause much of a problem but they can ignite the more dangerous buffelgrass, which will also benefit from this rain.

So the rains will help buffelgrass become even more pervasive meaning buffelgrass removal is an imperative this spring but right now, the rains are a brief respite and enjoyable, even though they won’t go much for drought relief.