The wild, wild weather

  • This map shows how green -- and therefore how healthy -- vegetation was this June compared to the average greenness of vegetation for the same time of year. The brownish orange areas are significantly less green than they have been in the past -- a good indicator of drought and potential fire danger. In the wetter areas, the dark green patches show healthier vegetation

    US Forest Service Wildland Fire Assessment System and US Geological Survey
  • A dust storm, or 'haboob,' rolls into Phoenix from the Arizona desert

    Rob Schumcher/The Arizona Republic
  • Silvery minnow

    USFWS
 

Blame it on climate change or the vagaries of nature, but whatever the cause, weather in the West has been extreme — and wacky. The Southwest has become a tinderbox, while Northwesterners are sopping wet.

WASHINGTON

Average yearly moisture: 37.02 in.*
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 41.53 in.


Nine consecutive days of downpour hit western Washington this January, triggering mudslides, flooding homes and closing highways. Bremerton, a town near Seattle, notched up 16.2 inches of rain during one three-week period, a quantity that normally falls over the course of 2 months. The relentless precipitation caused $7 million in damage and led the governor to declare a state of emergency.

OREGON

Average moisture: 26.78 inches Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 31.64 in. Winds of 117 miles per hour — the strongest recorded in the state since 1995 — swept through northeastern Oregon in mid-May, upending 12 circle irrigation systems and destroying 10,000 poplars on a tree farm near Boardman. The storms followed two days of record-breaking highs, which have since cooled down to normal summer temperatures.

CALIFORNIA

Average moisture: 22.33 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 28.44 in.


NEVADA

Average moisture: 8.76 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 10.32 in.


COLORADO

Average moisture: 15.85 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 14.04 in.

Ski resorts in the northern half of the state celebrated the return of good snow, as storm after storm brought some of the highest snow levels of the past decade. Southern Colorado could only look on with envy, as snowfall was scant and far below average. Springtime brought bad news for water managers all over the state, however. Unusually high temperatures, no significant snowfall in May, and snowmelt-inducing dust events quickly shriveled snowpack to below-average levels statewide (HCN, 5/29/06: Dust and Snow). By June, the remaining snow level was about five times lower than normal in the southern part of the state, only slightly higher than in 2002, one of the worst years on record for wildfires.

ARIZONA

Average moisture: 12.71 inches
Moisture June ‘05- May ‘06: 7.54 inches


Look up the word "drought" in the dictionary, and there might be a picture of Phoenix, Ariz., on June 6, when a "haboob" — a huge dust storm — engulfed portions of that sprawling city. Phoenicians have been parched this year: No precipitation fell for a record 143 days between October 2005 and March 2006, prompting some residents to flock to beauty salons in search of miracle potions to ease dry skin. This drought, coupled with four years of below-average precipitation across much of the state, has increased the risk of wildfire; more than 4,000 acres burned in February near Payson. The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared 14 out of 15 counties drought disaster areas.

MONTANA

Average moisture: 29.14 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 17.91 in.
An early heat wave blasted Montana’s Glacier National Park, setting a record high of 89 degrees on May 16. Rapid snowmelt produced water at the rate of one inch a day, which helped trigger a huge avalanche that churned 4,000 vertical feet down the slopes of Heaven’s Peak.

IDAHO

Average moisture: 18.8 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 22.05 in.


Climate reports from Idaho this year referred repeatedly to the state’s weather as a "yo-yo." Unseasonably high temperatures in May melted a big winter snowpack, which ranged from 110 to 180 percent of normal in central and southern Idaho and broke a four-year streak of below-average snowfall. Then it got cold again, and another foot of snow fell in some places. In early June, 90-degree temperatures returned, which melted more snow, prompting flood warnings in some areas and creating the best whitewater conditions in years.

WYOMING

Average moisture: 13.07 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 12.35 in.


NEW MEXICO

Average moisture: 13.45 inches
Moisture June ‘05-May ‘06: 9.28 in.


After a dry and dusty winter, southern New Mexico chile farmers welcomed the lack of weeds and insects, and planted crops early. But by mid-May, hot, windy weather dried up almost five miles of the Middle Rio Grande, bumming out farmers and killing 38 endangered Rio Grande silvery minnows. About half the state is under drought advisory, with some areas already experiencing "severe drought emergency." And on June 5, Albuquerque hit 98 and Roswell 105 degrees — record highs for both cities. But maybe there’s hope: The New Mexico Council of Churches asked all congregations to pray on Sunday, June 11, for an end to the drought. As we went to press, the prayers had not yet been answered.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: