Arizona’s Harsh Weather Result of El Niño Storm System

Photo courtesy of April Platt ‘19

April Platt, Class Writer

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In Feb. and Mar., it is almost custom that the temperatures in Phoenix and its surrounding areas will reach 70-80°. However, this year temperatures have fluctuated from 40-60°. Due to this, concern has grown among long-term residents, who are used to the typical warm winters.

The “cold spell” hitting Arizona began in Jan., when residents noticed the usual mid-winter warmup was not occurring. Instead, the winter weather seemed to mirror patterns usually seen in more Eastern states. With the temperature dropping, Arizonans were looking for an explanation to the question: why?

The colder temperatures this season have one distinct cause: El Niño, a storm system that occurs every few years when the Pacific ocean warms significantly. The effects of this warming can lead to strange bouts of weather throughout the regions surrounding the Pacific ocean, ranging from snow in Arizona to extreme winds and, in some cases, even storms such as typhoons.

Arizona has a distinct connection to the El Niño; it has witnessed the impacts of the El Niño system for years on end. In recent years the El Niño has become stronger, some speculating as a result of climate change and global warming superheating the Pacific ocean. This winter El Niño effects were seen through the rain in Jan. and Feb. through snow falling in the valley. For Arizona, it is expected that the wetter weather will last into Mar. and April.

Areas such as Flagstaff have seen record snow this winter season, totaling some twenty-inches. In Tucson, University of Arizona students were witness to snow gracing their dorms. Even Xavier students from North Scottsdale got to participate in the snow; one student, senior Isabelle Aguirre stated, “I thought the snow was weird but also it was cool to see in my own backyard.”

For Arizona residents and tourists expecting warm weather, the El Niño has caused a bit of disappointment. Another student, senior Evelyn Cardona, said, “I personally hated the weather because I like going to the park and doing outdoor activities like hiking. The rain and the strong breezes made those activities sometimes impossible.”

So, is the extreme cold Arizona has bared this winter truly a result of the El Niño or is it a result of something larger such as climate change? When will Phoenix warm up this spring?

 

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