National Park Service

Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN)

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Storm over the mountains


Weather: the state of the atmosphere over a short period of time (days to weeks)

Climate: the average atmospheric condition over long periods of time (years to centuries)

Average annual precipitation across the Southern Colorado Plateau Network
Average annual precipitation across the Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Click for a larger image (3 MB).

Climate is a primary controlling factor in ecosystem distribution. SCPN parks lie in a zone of arid temperate climates characterized by periods of drought and irregular precipitation, relatively warm to hot growing seasons, and long winters with sustained periods of freezing temperatures.

Many of the network parks experience a bi-modal precipitation pattern, (see climate summary charts below) with most precipitation occurring during the winter months and the summer monsoon rains. Much of the moisture is lost through evaporation, however, due to high noontime insolation (solar radiation), clear skies, and dry, thin, high-elevation air.

The northern boundary of the SCPN runs along a line that roughly coincides with the northwestern extent of summer monsoonal precipitation. The magnitude of the summer precipitation generally weakens from southeast to northwest and this may contribute to the high inter-seasonal and inter-annual variability in precipitation in the SCPN region.

Weather Stations

Ground-based weather stations are the primary source of climate information for every NPS park unit. These stations typically have temperature and precipitation sensors, and may also measure wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure, and humidity.

When collected over many years these data provide important site information including:

  • long term climate averages,
  • trends in weather data through time,
  • magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events, and
  • weather data for specific days or months in the past.

Because of their widespread utility, the SCPN has created an interactive map identifying current and historic weather stations near network parks. This map is an evolving feature that is updated as we learn of new stations or changes in station status.

Sunset glow through virga over the San Francisco Peaks<br>(Curtesy Michael Bencic) Localized monsoonal downpours are common in the <br>southwest (Curtesy Michael Bencic) Lenticular clouds over Mt. Elden near Flagstaff, AZ <br>(Curtesy Michael Bencic) Monsoon rains provide the summer portion of the southwest<br>
							 bimodal precipitation pattern (Curtesy Michael Bencic) Snow covered Sunset Crater Volcano <br>(Curtesy Michael Bencic) Early evening rains near Flagstaff, AZ<br>(Curtesy Michael Bencic) A winter scene at Grand Canyon demonstrates the impact <br>
							of elevation (Curtesy Michael Bencic) Cumulus clouds build up behind the San Francisco Peaks  <br>(Curtesy Michael Bencic) Snow melt from mountains 150 miles away brings water to the<br>
							desert at Grand Falls (Little Co. Riv.) (Curtesy Michael Bencic) Dramatic cloud build-up preceding intense summer storm<br>
							 in Arizona (Curtesy Michael Bencic) Snowfall, the winter part of the bimodal precip pattern for <br>
							SW mountains, is highly variable (Curtesy Michael Bencic) A very rare tornado damaged trees near Flagstaff in <br>October, 2010 (Curtesy Michael Bencic)

Climate Summary Charts

Charts are an effective way to summarize and graphically represent climate variables, and have been used by scientists interested in climatic interactions for decades.

Although climate patterns on the Colorado Plateau are fairly heterogeneous, SCPN weather stations reveal general patterns:

  1. precipitation decreases from high elevations to low elevations, and
  2. summer precipitation decreases from the southeastern portion of the Plateau to the northwest.

The following charts are based on the diagrams developed for vegetation studies by Walter and Lieth in 1967. For more information on SCPN climate, see Appendix D of the SCPN Vital Signs Monitoring Plan

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins NM Climate Graph


Bandelier NM Climate Graph

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly NM Climate Graph

Chaco Culture

Chaco Canyon NHP Climate Graph

El Malpais NM

El Malpais NM  Climate Graph

El Morro NM

El Morro NM  Climate Graph

Glen Canyon NRA

Lower elevation near Page, Arizona

Glen Canyon NRA Climate Graph

Glen Canyon NRA

Higher elevation at Hans Flat Ranger Station

Glen Canyon NRA Climate Graph

Grand Canyon NP

Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim

Grand Canyon NP  Climate Graph

Grand Canyon NP

Lower elevation at Phantom Ranch on the river

Grand Canyon NP  Climate Graph

Grand Canyon NP

Higher elev. at Jacob Lake near the North Rim

Grand Canyon NP  Climate Graph

Hubbell Trading Post NHS

Hubbell Trading Post NHS  Climate Graph

Mesa Verde NM

Mesa Verde NM  Climate Graph

Navajo NM

Navajo NM  Climate Graph

Petrified Forest NP

Petrified Forest NP  Climate Graph

Petroglyph NM

Petroglyph NM  Climate Graph

Rainbow Bridge NM

Rainbow Bridge NM  Climate Graph

Salinas Pueblo Missions NM

Salinas Pueblo Missions NM  Climate Graph

Sunset Crater Volcano NM

Sunset Crater Volcano NM  Climate Graph

Walnut Canyon NM

Walnut Canyon NM  Climate Graph

Wupatki NM

Wupatki NM Climate Graph

Yucca House NM

Yucca House NM  Climate Graph

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster