Are Arizona Crops Sizzling as Temperatures Soar? One Farmer Says the Heat is Normal for July

    Thermometer showing high temperatures. Photo: Ohio State University

    Global temperatures may have set a new record in July, according to some early analyses. As the high U.S. temperatures stole headlines this week, the Biden administration rolled out provisions to protect workers from extreme heat.

    The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, says scientists confirmed July is on track to be the world’s hottest month on record. One study suggested global temperatures in July could beat the previous record set in 2019 by 0.2 degree Fahrenheit.

    Arizona is seeing a streak of heat. Earlier this month, Phoenix broke a 1974 record for the consecutive number of days the temperature reached more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.

    Yuma County, Arizona farmer John Boelts says the heat people are experiencing in his area is typical for July.

    “The heat always impacts us, but I think the best way to describe it is we’re used to that,” says Boelts, who along with his wife, Alicia, operates Desert Premium Farms in Yuma, Ariz. “That’s normal weather for July and the low desert here in Yuma,” he adds.

    The streak of heat in Arizona isn’t the only news generator this week. The state also recorded the all-time record low one day this week, when Phoenix Sky Harbor reached a low of 97 degrees on Wednesday. That made it the highest low temperature ever recorded on July 26 in the city.

    “As a teenager starting to work in ag full time myself, I can remember leaving to go to work and passing the bank signs, long before we all had thermometers in our vehicles, and it was not unusual to see 94, 95 or 99 degrees at sunup here in Yuma as you’re driving through town headed out to the field. So that’s kind of what we’re experiencing now,” he says.

    His area is known for growing crops like leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower that are then shipped across the U.S. and Canada, but those crops aren’t grown during the heat of the summer in Arizona.

    “This time of year, we know it’s going to be hot. So we’re growing crops like cotton and sudangrass, and we’re preparing our land in a way that’s appropriate for the time of year and the season in this type of weather, because we’ll start planting fall melons and our winter produce crops in August,” Boelts says.

    Crops like cotton need heat and a lot of sunshine, making it ideal for Arizona in the summer. Boelts says he and other farmers were more challenged by the second consecutive year of record cool temperatures in May and June.

    Blame It (Partially) On El Nino

    What’s causing the warm temperatures that parked across the South and Southwest earlier this month, but then crept into the Midwest this week? USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey says for the South, the problem heat started in mid-June.

    “That’s when we started to see some trouble brewing in Texas. More recently, that’s expanded into the western United States, especially the Desert Southwest. That heat that’s coming up from the South is likely more related to El Nino than anything we’ve seen to this point,” says Rippey. “So, you can likely blame some of that high heat in Texas and Arizona, for example, on the developing El Nino.”

    Rippey says there’s also some linkage to the high pressure system over Canada and the heat over Texas this week.

    “It’s sort of a blend between blocks, if you will, and that is creating some of the extreme heat that we’re seeing in the western Corn Belt and in the Great Plains this week. But again, that’s not completely related to El Nino,” Rippey adds.

    NOAA officials declared El Nino arrived in June, but the signs of it have been minimal so far. Earlier this year, some officials predicted the arrival of El Nino would bring ample rainfall to the Corn Belt and other favorable changes. However, Rippey says the current summer weather isn’t too far off course with a typical El Nino.

    “The thing about El Nino is its biggest impacts on the northern hemisphere weather typically occur during the cool season as you move into October and beyond, so that October to April timeframe,” Rippey says. “That’s when you see the consistent signal within Nino, usually wet in the southern United States, mild and often dry across the North.”

    Signs of Change 

    He says those El Nino effects are still months away, but for now, El Nino is a contributing factor to the heat in the deep South.

    As Boelts manages Arizona heat every year, he says this year he and other residents are hopeful the moisture situation continues to turn more favorable not only for where he lives, but also to support the water level in the Colorado River.

    “We know we’re not going to get a lot of rainfall, so we’re very dependent on being able to irrigate our crops with Colorado River water,” he says. “And we’ve been very excited to see that the Colorado River watershed has received a lot of moisture this year, not just in Arizona, where we contribute heavily to the Colorado River watershed, but also in the in the upper parts of the basin in Utah and Colorado. We’re moving in the right direction, refilling those reservoirs. And so we’re hopeful that we’re at the beginning of a trend of improvement.”

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