Is Arizona's active monsoon season helping the decades-long drought?

Much of the Valley is drying out after a round of back-to-back storms which brought some desperately needed rainfall. 

But is it enough to make a dent in Arizona’s decades-long drought?

The rain filled up and overflowed washes and canals across the state, but experts say the recent monsoon rains, merely improved drought conditions.

"The heavy, intense precipitation that we get in the summer, once our soil is saturated, it just runs off and is no longer in our water supply," explained Erin Saffell, Arizona State University Climatology expert.

In simple terms, the majority of water from recent storms will just evaporate.

"Our soil is very hard here. When they dry out, and especially in the Valley, there’s a lot of concrete and cement," said Jeff Inwood, Arizona Department of Water Resources Chief. "It’s helpful but it doesn’t solve the problem."

Arizona has been in a drought for nearly 20 years – most of the state is under severe to exceptional drought conditions.

The current rainfall total so far for the 2021 monsoon season at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport is 1.84 inches, which is more than the combined rainfall in 2019 and 2020.

While all the water doesn’t make a dent in the drought in the short term, it will actually help collect more water during the winter.

"By soaking the soil with the monsoon rains, it will help additional moisture rain runoff of into streams and ultimately reservoirs," Inwood said.

We get most of our water from snowpack that melts and feeds into the Colorado River. Officials say because last summer was so dry, only about 40% of last year’s snowpack went into our water supply.  

"We need at least three good wet winters to move largely out of drought," Saffell said.

The next US Drought Monitor map will be released July 29 and experts expect to see some improvement, hoping that the worst areas in exceptional drought will move down into the extreme drought range.

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Rain/flood safety tips

The American Red Cross' tips for heavy rain situations and flood safety:

  • Turnaround don’t drown! If you must drive and you encounter a flooded roadway, turn around and go another way.
  • If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground.
  • Tune in to your local radio, NOAA radio, or news channels for the latest updates.
  • If your neighborhood is prone to flooding, be prepared to evacuate quickly.
  • Follow evacuation orders and do not attempt to return until officials say it is safe.
  • If power lines are down, do not step in puddles or standing water.
  • If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame as alternate lighting.


Preparing for a severe thunderstorm 

The American Red Cross' tips for preparing for a severe thunderstorm:

  • Put together an emergency kit.
  • Know your community’s evacuation plan.
  • Create a household disaster plan and practice it.
  • Purchase a battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • Discuss thunderstorm safety with members of your household. Be aware that a thunderstorm could produce flooding.
  • Pick a safe place in your home for household members to gather during a thunderstorm. This should be a place where there are no windows, skylights, or glass doors, which could be broken by strong winds or hail and cause damage or injury.


Be prepared and stay safe during the monsoon

"Most Valley residents know how quickly and furiously storms can move in and out, bringing strong winds, dust, rain, and flash flooding. These storms can cause interruptions in services, such as water, power, and gas," stated Captain Ashley Losch of the Glendale Fire Department.

GFD reminds residents of ways they can be prepared and stay safe:

  • Have flashlights with extra batteries on hand.
  • Have food that can be prepared without the need for cooking or refrigeration.
  • Have at least one gallon of clean water for each person in the household.
  • Have backup power for anyone requiring power for a medical device.
  • Have backup power for cell phones that do not require charging.
  • Have a first aid kit ready and accessible.
  • Never drive into areas with flowing water; it takes less than 10 inches to wash a car away.
  • Avoid flooded areas, such as washes.
  • If waters are rising, seek higher ground.
  • Do not approach downed power lines, the ground can be energized for up to 200 feet.
  • Keep pets indoors during storms.