By June you’ve probably had your fill of the winds blowing across the Verde Valley. I know I have. Gusts that dry out my eyeballs and blow off my hat are a feature here. When we moved in, I wondered why the ornamental spinner in the front yard was bent. Maybe there was an accident? Then we were given a new spinner, and we watched it bend over with every strong blow. We could almost watch it happen.
Finally, my husband installed 5/8” rebar down the middle of the hollow supports to keep the spinners upright. When I bought a stand for my bird feeders, he tied it to a fencing stake driven into the ground. I don’t know how much of my bird seed hits the ground as the wind blows the feeders around. I figure that the ground feeding birds, like Abert’s towhees, white-crowned sparrows, and Gamble’s quail, benefit from the spilled seeds.
April and May are the windiest times of the year in northern Arizona, according to the National Weather Service. June is a close second for wind and is our driest and hottest month. Fluctuating spring temperatures and colliding weather fronts combine to produce powerful, dry winds, usually flowing southwest. The winds flow across the rolling grasslands, shrub lands, and pinyon-juniper forests, swooping down into the Verde Valley.
Growing up in Phoenix, I would ask my dad if the wind didn’t bother him, as it whipped my long hair into my mouth and eyes. I wore a bandana to control my hair in those days. I remember being surprised when he said he didn’t mind it. Of course, his hair was short. I’m thinking more often about cutting off my long hair.
Another month of these winds and I’m ready for the monsoons. Some people complain about the humidity, but not me. I’m ready for some moisture. As the days continue to be hot and dry, I look forward to the start of monsoon season on June 15th.
Nobody knows when and how much it will rain. Back in March, the National Weather Service predicted normal to above normal rain for this year’s monsoon season. This was welcome news to me and to everyone in the parched, drought-stricken American West. I hope that the prediction is correct.
The Verde River is at its lowest flow in June. River boating in June can be an exercise in avoiding the rocks that bump your bottom. This is the time of year when we measure the river’s base flow, the amount of flow that consists of the water seeping in from underground sources. During June, river flow isn’t influenced by the spring runoff or summer rains.
The Verde’s base flow has been declining in recent years. Since 1990, the Verde has declined by 32 percent in the above Clarkdale to 46 percent below Camp Verde, as measured in June each year since 1990.
This June, the Verde is very low. Early June data from the USGS shows that the river flow is well below historical norms at all three river gages in the middle Verde (Paulden, Clarkdale, and Camp Verde). A dry winter likely reduced the amount of recharge to groundwater.
We are over 22 years into the long mega drought of the American West. The drought has parched the land, drying out the soil and reducing plant moisture. This makes the land more prone to grass and forest fires. Fires are more severe when the plants start out already dry.
Increasing dryness has negative impacts on wildlife, too. Animals that graze, like pronghorn, white-tailed deer, and bison, get water from the vegetation they eat and from streams and ponds. As plants provide less moisture, open water becomes more important. And yet, the same conditions that lead to dryer plants also dry out streams. Fire, of course, destroys forage and contaminates streams with acidic runoff.
This is the unhappy cycle of drought and climate change. Heat, wind, and drought are the ingredients for a continued hotter, dryer west.
What can you do? The collective impact of individual actions can make a difference in reducing the impacts of a hotter climate. River Friendly Living provides you guidance in actions that you can take to reduce your individual impact.
Here’s one: if you use less water at your house or business, then you use less power to pump that water from underground. Using less power reduces greenhouse gas emissions. So, using less water reduces power usage, emissions, AND leaves more water for wildlife and for the future.
Here’s another: Growing native plants in your garden provides essential food and shelter for pollinators and other wildlife. See some of our resources for helping pollinators in Arizona.
These are two ways you can be River Friendly. To find out more ways you can be River Friendly, go to https://verderiver.org/river-friendly-living/
This article was originally published in the print editions of the Cottonwood Journal and the Camp Verde Journal in June 2022.