Much scientific research demonstrates the existence of recent climate variation, particularly global warming. Climate prediction models forecast that climate will change; it will become warmer, droughts will increase in number and severity, and extreme climate events will recur often?desiccating aridity, extremely wet, unusually warm, or even frigid at times. However, the global models apply to average conditions in large grids approximately 150 miles on an edge (Thorpe, 2005), and how or whether specific areas within a grid are affected is unclear. Flagstaff‘s climate is mentioned in the context of global change, but information is lacking on the amount and trend of changes in precipitation, snowfall, and temperature. The purpose of this report is to understand what may be happening to Flagstaff‘s climate by reviewing local climate history.
Flagstaff is in north-central Arizona south of San Francisco Mountain, which reaches 12,633 feet, the highest in Arizona (fig. 1). At 6,900 feet, surrounded by ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff enjoys a four-season climate; winter-daytime temperatures are cool, averaging 45 degrees (Fahrenheit). Summer-daytime temperatures are comfortable, averaging 80 degrees, which is pleasant compared with nearby low-elevation deserts. Flagstaff?s precipitation averages 22-inches per year with a range of 9 to 39 inches. Snowfall occurs each season, averaging 97 inches annually.
This report, written for the non-technical reader, interprets climate variation at Flagstaff as observed at the National Weather Service (NWS) station at Pulliam Field (or Airport), a first-order weather station staffed by meteorologists (Staudenmaier and others, 2007). The station is on a flat-topped ridge surrounded by forest 5-miles south of Flagstaff at an elevation of 7,003 feet. Data used in this analysis are daily measurements of precipitation (including snowfall) and temperature (maximum and minimum) covering the period from 1950, when the station began operation, through spring 2007. Conversations with Byron Peterson and Michael Staudenmaier of the NWS helped us understand the difficulties of collecting consistent weather data, operation of the station, and Flagstaff‘s climate.
Weather is the daily or even instantaneous state of temperature and precipitation. Climate is the average or accumulation of these parameters over longer time scales such as a week, month, or year. Seasonal (winter, spring, summer, and fall) and annual averages of temperature and accumulated precipitation describe the temporal variation of Flagstaff‘s climate, which is shown graphically with time series (figs. 2, 4, 6, 8-15). These plots show precipitation or temperature on the ordinate plotted against time on the abscissa, which is a year for annually repeating data or the year of a particular season. The plots reveal changing patterns of precipitation and temperature related to droughts, wet episodes, and rising temperatures.