It’s raining again this morning in Phoenix and the only things fuller than the typically dry desert washes right now are Paul’s and my email inbox’s flooded with questions similar to “With all this rain we’re getting, will this be the killer wildflower bloom we’ve all be waiting for in the Arizona desert?”
After less than spectacular blooms for the past several years, this year, we are optimistically encouraged by the amount of precipitation – and as a result, the greening desert. Although the verdict is still out on what will develop, we do have some early indications of what may come to pass for this year’s desert bloom.
We have been tracking the actual rainfall in a number of key flower hot spots since November, which is when we need abundant winter rains to trigger the sprouting process. (We need solid rains in November and December, and then steady sprinkles in January, February, and March for a great annual bloom). Based on rainlog.org data, here’s what we’ve seen in areas where rainfall amounts are collected:
As you can see, the season didn’t start off terribly well (zero rain in November), but has rebounded quite impressively in December and into January (and it’s still raining, at least in Phoenix, as we speak). Whether December’s amounts were enough to make up for November’s will remain unknown until we see the magnitude and depth of the spring bloom beginning in the next three to six weeks.
Around the start of the new year, the desert experienced a couple of freezes. The brittlebush bloom had begun early in some locations, but then those buds froze. The perennial plants seem to be re-budding as the weather warms, which is good news. The poppies and other annuals were also affected by the freeze. How much so, though, will also remain a mystery until we start to see the annual bloom appear.
February is a critical month. Sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, everything needs to be “just right.” Too much rain could encourage the grasses to grow and choke out flowers. Too little rain could cause a smaller bloom. Cold weather could slow the progress and delay the bloom while warm weather could speed it up.
According to NOAA, Arizona remains in an El Nino Watch status with a 50-60% of this system emerging onto the scene in the next two months. An El Nino typically brings additional rain to the desert southwest, which can affect the annual, perennial, and cactus bloom starting in late February through June. The Farmer’s Almanac is also predicting rain showers for the area from February 1-7 and again February 21-26. If this prediction pans out, it’s the steady sprinkles we need at the precisely the right time of year.
What can you do to get ready for what’s to come?
- Keep an eye on the rainfall for February.
- Watch websites like DesertUSA Wildflower Updates and our Wild in Arizona blog for eyes-on field reports.
- Dust off your camera and start practicing your macro techniques.
- And if you haven’t done so already, pre-order a copy of the expanded 2nd edition of our award-winning guidebook, Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers, A Guide to When, Where, & How via our Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/wild-in-az-photographing-az-s-wildflowers-book. As Mother Nature decides what kind of bloom year we’ll have, the book will help you prepare and get you in the right place at the right time as things materialize out there!
Keep your fingers crossed, everyone!
Colleen & Paul