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Monitoring and Reporting Drought in Arizona

We need more people reporting on drought impacts and more ground-measured precipitation data in Western states like Arizona. When this information reaches Drought Monitor authors, they are better able to depict drought onset, severity and extent on the US Drought Monitor Map. But for more people to be involved in reporting drought impacts or to become a volunteer precipitation observer, they need to know the opportunities available to them.

Outreach and education are key! 

Scottsdale, AZ

The Southwest Hub teamed up with the Arizona Drought Monitoring Technical Committee, CLIMAS, the National Drought Mitigation Center and the National Weather Service to bring a Drought Monitoring and Reporting Workshop to Scottsdale on March 6th.  We know from previous workshops that while many people know about and use the US Drought Monitor (USDM), they are not aware that they can contribute to the Drought Monitor process in several ways. We were pleased to welcome participants from throughout Arizona to the workshop, especially people from rural and tribal areas at the frontline of drought impacts. 

Brian Fuchs from the National Drought Mitigation Center opened the day presenting on the USDM process, the timelines for creating the weekly USDM maps, and how different states communicate with the Drought Monitor authors to give feedback or input on draft maps. Each week, the current drought monitor author shares 3 draft maps to the "Listserv" before the final map is produced. The Listserv is an email list of around 400 USDM contributors including state climatologists, federal and state agencies and personnel, state drought task forces, and regional climate centers. While multiple datasets are used to make the map each week, input from the Listserv is used to fine tune the map - Drought Monitor authors use a "Convergence of Evidence" approach - where all data, including Listserv input, agree on a drought category in any given locality.  

Another way to contribute input to the USDM is to report drought impacts. Anyone can submit a report via the Drought Impact Reporter. Looking at the reports from 2018, a terrible drought year across the Southwest, it's clear we have some work to do to let people know to report their drought impacts! There were only 6 reports from Arizona, three each from New Mexico and Nevada, and five from Utah.

Zack Richards (AZ Department of Water Resources), Nancy Selover (AZ State Climatologist) and  Mark O'Malley (National Weather Service, Phoenix) presented on the Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan and Local Drought Impacts Groups (LDIGs). LDIGS are county-based local drought groups that were originally proposed to coordinate local awareness of drought, conduct impact assessments, and to provide drought monitoring information and drought response options to the Drought Monitoring Technical Committee. However, most LDIGs have been inactive for some time - one of the issues we wanted to discuss at this meeting. Local information provided by groups like the LDIGS is very important in a large state like Arizona because drought impacts can differ widely depending on location and the communities affected. 

Kathleen Chavez, Water Policy Manager for Pima County gave a summary of the Pima County LDIG's activities - one of the only LDIGS that reports regularly to the Drought Monitoring Technical Committee. A question that arose after Kathleen's presentation was why the Pima County LDIGs continued to be so active while reporting from LDIGs in other counties seemed to have faded away. The reason is straightforward - the existence of a Pima County LDIG is declared in the county's Drought Response Plan and Water Wasting Ordinance

Mike Crimmins (CLIMAS, U of A) and Tony Merriman (NWS Flagstaff) presented on their work to expand precipitation monitoring. Mike has been leading a project called MyRainge, which utilizes cow-proof accumulation precipitation gauges, suitable for remote rangeland sites and periodic reading. (Mike also introduced a new project  - the Drought Monitoring Playbook, which is scheduled to become an active online tool later in 2019). Tony Merriman has been working to build relationships with tribal partners in the NE corner of Arizona to encourage participation in volunteer precipitation observations for CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow network). Drought conditions are very difficult to assess in the Four Corners because there are few in situ observations and poor radar coverage. By partnering with Navajo Chapter Houses, and by appreciating the importance of water in Navajo culture, Tony is steadily recruiting new observers and together they are improving precipitation monitoring over the Navajo Nation. 

During the afternoon of the meeting, participants discussed challenges to and solutions for improving drought monitoring and drought impact reporting. One of the recurrent themes was - people do not know that they can be involved, we need to be sharing the information from this workshop more widely. Outreach and education are key! These and other discussions are currently being written up into a short report which will be published here in the next six weeks. For now, you can find more information about the individual presentations from the links below. 

Caiti Steele, SW Hub Coordinator

Links to presentations