|Winter runoff, which typically keeps non-perennial streams in the valley flowing through the winter months, has dropped off the last two years, leaving some stretches, like this stretch of Beaver Creek, looking more like they would in late summer, minus the leaves.|
Do you remember New Year's Day 2011?
In case you forgot, it was cold. Cottonwood set an all-time record low temperature for the date when the temperature dropped to -3 degrees Fahrenheit.
It was just the beginning.
On the same day that Punxsutawney Phil was looking for his shadow, it turned 6 degrees in Camp Verde, another record, and highs for the day barely returned to freezing. Numerous Northern Arizona communities experienced some of their coldest high temperatures ever, including Flagstaff and Prescott.
A huge rain and snowstorm swept across the state Feb. 19-20, dumping almost four feet of snow at the Snowbowl.
Then, on May 29, winds were clocked at nearly 70 mph at Two Guns the Navaho Reservation, and a persistent trough of low pressure forced the National Weather Service to issue wind advisories for most of June, across the north half of the state.
And then there was August -- a damn hot August. Readings from a National Weather Service thermometer in Oak Creek showed that it was the hottest August on record in the canyon.
Flagstaff and Prescott recorded their second hottest August on record. For Payson it was their third hottest.
For much of Northern Arizona 2011 was a year of weather extremes. And if the National Weather Service is right, 2012 may offer more of the same, albeit more related to lack of weather.
"For all the wild weather we had last year, the thing that is of most interest to me this year, in our part of the world, is moisture," says George Howard, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
For all the high winds and low temperatures, Howard says it is moisture, too little or too much, that makes things interesting in the Verde valley.
"If you look at 2011 in the Verde Valley, for the most part, drought was the big news. Most places along the river only picked up 65 to 80 percent of normal precipitation. The summer monsoon was about normal in the valley but winter precipitation was below average
Average yearly precipitation in the Verde Valley is 8-11 inches, according to Howard. Monsoon rainfall averages about 5 to 6 inches.
Last year, Howard notes, there was a "borderline" La Niña weather pattern, a phenomenon where below average surface water temperatures in the east central Pacific Ocean drive winter storms north of the state.
"We had a weak one last year. The bad part is we've fired up another one this year that is actually stronger than last year's.
"While last fall started out kind of nice as far as precipitation, since a week before Christmas things have been pretty dry. We are once again in a deficit and it doesn't look like things are gong to get particularly better," says Howard.
Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted six more weeks of winter in 2012, but, according to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center, from here on out expect above average temperatures and below average precipitation.