Missing the Monsoons

3 Dec

Given the record-breaking drought all across the US southwest, many people living there waited with cautious anticipation for the annual monsoon that delivers 75+% of the region’s annual precipitation.

While it’s unclear when the monsoon will arrive and whether it will deliver on rainfall totals, one thing is completely clear. The region is hanging its hopes on the rains to douse the wildfire flames and quench a thirsty landscape. (from Climas June 2011 report)

The typical monsoon season is over. As Climas has reported,

The 2011 monsoon began and ended with a bang but was lackluster in between. While many regions experienced near-average rainfall, a few periods of widespread and copious rains padded the statistics, particularly in mid-September, turning an otherwise dry summer into an average one…. But after a historically dry winter and a paucity of precipitation forecast for upcoming months, the Southwest will take rainfall in any way it is delivered.

In the Big Bend region of Texas, the rain was little, and a little too late. Our visits there in July and November of 2011 revealed continued drought and its effects on the plant life. Desert areas in the Big Bend National Park, north and east of the park, revealed dead and dying cacti (especially prickly pear) and other drought-tolerant succulents. Overall,  lechuguilla, the indicator species of the Chihuahua Desert, has experienced significant mortality.

Many species of wildlife have also suffered from lack of water and browse. Considering the emaciated condition of the adult doe that perished near our feet last July, fawn mortality and death of adults may have significantly impacted the number of browsing species in the area. Downstream impact on predator species may not be as critical, especially with abundant weak and dying prey.

Except for populated areas with infrastructure that supplies water from aquifers (Alpine, Marfa, etc),  people living off the grid and relying on rainwater harvesting are as eager to see rain as the rest of the desert life. Many have had to resort to hauling water from other water sources.

Meanwhile, the forecast is not heartening. From the October issue of the Climas report (linked above):

La Niña conditions have returned, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and these events historically deliver dry conditions to the Southwest. Current forecasts issued by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society indicates greater than a 50 percent chance that the La Niña event will persist through February.

We daily look hopefully to the sky for rain. And we rejoice when we get even a sprinkling or drizzle, as we did during our November visit.


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