/ Modified mar 17, 2016 1:55 p.m.

Forecasters Predict Arizona Will Return to Drought Conditions

El Niño’s rains went north to Sierras and Pacific Northwest

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The rains expected from a strong El Niño warming pattern have not materialized in the desert southwest. National climate forecasters predict Arizona’s drought conditions will return this spring.

The hoped-for rains from El Niño were predicted to wipe out the region’s drought, but they didn’t develop.

El Niño is a climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, often creating conditions leading to heavy winter rainfall. The rains came, but not to Arizona and much of the country’s southern tier.

“Drought is expected to persist in central and Southern California, southwest Nevada and Western Arizona, northwest Montana and Hawaii through the month of June,” said Jon Gottschalck, the chief climate predictor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

Gottschalck said current El Niño conditions mean ongoing drought for most of Arizona and western New Mexico where wintertime precipitation was substantially below normal.

Watch a video of NOAA's spring outlook

This season’s El Niño contributed to a milder than average winter across nearly all of the country, Gottschalck said, and some regions saw rain totals well above normal.

Michelle Stokes, the hydrologist in charge at NOAA’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, said the Rocky Mountains’ major river remains in drought condition with water supplies for this season “near to below normal.”

“It’s still pretty grim for the Colorado basin in general,” she said.

The Arizona Science Desk is a collaboration of public broadcasting entities in the state, including Arizona Public Media.

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