Is Arizona in a drought or not?

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Monday, May 15, 2023 - 5:05am

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Drought monitor Arizona
U.S. Drought Monitor
U.S. Drought Monitor conditions for Arizona as of May 9, 2023

Is Arizona in a drought or not? A year ago, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported the entire state of Arizona was experiencing dry conditions. Now, the report shows only about 18% of the state is in a drought. But experts say that doesn’t signal an end to water shortages in the Southwest.

“While the current short-term map shows significant improvement — it looks great — Arizona would need at least three years of above-average wet conditions during the winter and monsoon seasons to really mitigate the impacts that have been accumulating over the years of drought,” Nemesis Ortiz-Declet, drought program coordinator with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, told KJZZ News. 

drought over time
U.S. Drought Monitor
Most of Arizona has been in some level of drought for much of the past 20 years.

Ortiz-Declet describes the U.S. Drought Monitor map as a weekly snapshot of metrics like precipitation and soil moisture. It currently shows only a sliver of Western Arizona in experiencing abnormally dry conditions or moderate drought. She said that's an indication that most of the state has seen normal levels of moisture on the short-term. 

“We can see improvement in a lot of vegetation throughout the state, we’ve had some super-blooms this spring," Ortiz-Declet said. 

But Ortiz-Declet said that's not the whole story. 

“It’s really important to look at both short-term and long-term to consider what is happening now and think about what can happen in the future.”

When you factor in conditions of the several previous years, more of the state looks dry, Ortiz-Declet said. Arizona's wet winter did improve long-term conditions somewhat, but she said it’s too soon to predict what this year’s monsoon will look like.

long term drought
Arizona State Climate Office
Arizona Drought Monitoring Technical Committee determines long-term drought by comparing the precipitation and streamflow percentiles for the past 24, 36, 48 and 60 months to a 40-year historical record.