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Extreme hurricanes are predicted to wallop the East Coast. It could make Arizona's summer worse, too

Last summer was, of course, the hottest on record here in the metro Phoenix, and the forecast for the next several days calls for triple-digit high temperatures.

With Memorial Day kicking off the summer season, The Show sat down with Randy Cerveny to get a preview of what to expect over the next few months. Randy Cerveny is an Arizona State University professor and rapporteur on extreme records for the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: So, it's, it's got to be cooler than last year, right?

RANDY CERVENY: Well, for us, it probably will be slightly cooler. For other parts of the country, it might not. We're looking particularly right now at western Texas and New Mexico is being really hot and really dry. We're probably gonna be hot and dry but not to their extent.

BRODIE: All right. So we've got them, we've got them to feel better about ourselves. What is it about, what's going on that will make those areas hotter and drier than what we have experienced in the past year?

CERVENY: Well, the way that, that our monsoon sets up is as a result of pressure patterns. And normally what we have is what we call the Four Corners high, a big high pressure system that sets right up in the Four Corners area. It looks like this summer, that high pressure system is going to be a little bit more focused over into New Mexico and into Texas. Now, that actually could be a little bit of a silver lining for us because the way air flows around a high pressure system is in a clockwise manner. So that's gonna be forcing moisture hopefully from the Gulf of Mexico and from the Pacific Ocean up into Arizona.

Now, whether that's going to be enough to give us a really good monsoon or not, that's gonna depend also on what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico or Gulf of California and in the, in the Pacific Ocean, particularly whether we're gonna have hurricanes out there or not.

BRODIE: Well, so what does the forecast, I mean, obviously, we know the forecast for the East Coast for hurricane season looks pretty bad. What are, what are forecasters looking for in terms of storm activity, precipitation in this part of the world?

CERVENY: Well, the idea here is that the, there's a pretty good relationship between what's going on in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and hurricane activity. It seems odd but when we have something that's called El Niño, which is a warming of the, the Pacific Ocean. We have a lot of hurricanes in the Pacific when we have, what's the opposite of that called La Niña, which is a cold Pacific Ocean. We get a lot of hurricanes over in the Atlantic.

So what we are doing is we've had a good year this last year of El Niño. Now it is shifting back to La Niña. So that's going to mean a lot of hurricanes on the East Coast and particularly with the ocean temperatures in the Caribbean and in the Atlantic right now, they're actually anticipating one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. But that also means that we're probably not going to have a lot of hurricanes off the coast of Mexico. The problem with that is that we depend on that moisture from those hurricanes. We don't get hurricanes up here into Phoenix. But we depend on that moisture to actually come up into Arizona. If we don't have those storms, we might not have a good monsoon.

BRODIE: Right. Well, so, I mean, and obviously we, we need the rain, right? But with the monsoon comes increased humidity and when it's, you know, 105, 106 and pretty darn humid out, that's fairly uncomfortable to be out. Does that mean that if it is, if there's less storm activity, maybe less monsoon activity, does that, at the very least, I'm maybe grasping for silver linings here, does that at least keep the humidity down and make it a little more bearable to be outside?

CERVENY: The, the, the drawback to that is if the humidity is down, the temperatures go higher because moisture absorbs heat. So if you have a drier situation, then you get to looking at more of the 115s as opposed to the 110s. So right now with the flow with the, it's, it's, I, I like to think of our monsoon as kind of like a gun. You need to have a lot of different things. You need to have the flow that is conducive to storms and that's the gun. But you also have to have the ammunition, which is the moisture. Right now, it looks like the circulation is going to set up that we've got the gun. It's just a matter of whether that moisture is going to be able to funnel up the Colorado River and into Phoenix.

Right now and that's what the trouble is right now. That's kind of a local situation and it's really hard to forecast. One of the things about our monsoon is, it's typically a very hard thing to forecast.

BRODIE: So does that mean then that we could be seeing those 115 degree temperatures later into the season when in a, a good monsoon season they'd be down with, with some storm activity?

CERVENY: It's, it's possible that we might start out a little bit later in the monsoon than, with the start of the monsoon. Normally our monsoon here in Phoenix starts the first week of July. It might be another extra week beyond that before we get the thunderstorms coming in. The other thing to realize is when we have our monsoon, it, it has two phases. The first few storms of the monsoon are always dry storms. That's the ones with the big dust storms and the classic video images that everybody.

BRODIE: The walls of dust.

CERVENY: Exactly. And then as we get into late July and into August, it turns into more of the wet thunderstorms that we, we are accustomed to here.

BRODIE: So, would you be expecting that we will see some rainstorms just maybe later in the season?

CERVENY: Yeah, I'm, I'm actually kind of a little more optimistic than the National Weather Service in terms of how things are looking up because the flow is helpful for us to get moisture into the state. It's just a matter of whether we can get, some storms down there to have that moisture to pop up. And that right now is kind of the $64,000 question for all of this.

BRODIE: Right. So, one of the big things that a lot of people noticed last year in addition to just the number of days over 110, I think a lot of us tried to block that exact number out of our memories, but the overnight temperatures, it never really cooled off for a good part of the summer. Are, are you expecting that again where it's going to be 90 or above, like, even at night?

CERVENY: Unfortunately. Yes, that is actually one of the, the classic signs of global warming of, of climate change, that as we get more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that traps the heat during the night and allows for unfortunately warmer evening. So I am actually anticipating that we're probably going to hit our first 100-degree minimum temperature before we hit a temperature above 122. Those are our two big records for the summer. And yeah, I think sometime in the near future, not, maybe not this year, maybe in the next few years we'll have a low temperature that does not get below 100 degrees.

BRODIE: Wow. I mean, that, that seems like a real problem. I mean, to sort of state the obvious here, that seems like a real problem?

CERVENY: Yeah that does. It doe. And then particularly for the homeless and, and other populations in a large urban center, that kind of situation is, is catastrophic and that's one of the reasons I'm pleased to see places like Phoenix developing such a, an outreach involving hot temperatures.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.