Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Know Thy Environment!

(Another ‘Thank You” to MojoMan who inspired this post by a comment a few weeks go. I always appreciate it when he sets up my soap box.)

The first commandment of sustainable living is “know thy environment”. The media inundates us with a "global perspective" and a "global economy" but that's not reality for a locality. It's not wise to import plants, values and ideas without evaluating their suitability.

Julie and I didn’t know the world into which we chose to move. On the spur of the moment while on a vacation trip to Flagstaff we completed applications for jobs at the University. Within three days Julie had an interview scheduled and within one week a job offer. We gave notice at the university in Texas and about a month later we arrived. We’ve had to learn and adapt.

When you think of Arizona, what do you envision? Desert sands, cacti, bright sun, warm winters and irrigated golf courses crowed with annual migrants from the northern states and Canada? The following map of climate zones will quickly dispel that vision. Flagstaff, marked by the red arrow, is located in an environment that requires insulation similar to that needed in northern Main and the Dakotas.

Climate Zones [1]

Flagstaff is situated on the Colorado Plateau at an altitude of 7,000 feet. I’ve read (but can’t verify accuracy) that the Colorado is the second highest plateau in the world exceeded by the altitude of the Tibetan Plateau in Asia.

Mt Humphreys, just north of Flagstaff, is the highest point in Arizona at 12,600 feet. Altitude affects temperatures, weather patterns, growing season, flora, atmospheric pressure, quantity of available oxygen and other items.

At 7000 feet we have only 78% of the available oxygen as at sea level. [2] Dehydration occurs more quickly. In Flagstaff I see more water bottles than I’ve seen in other parts of the country where I’ve lived. Altitude affects cooking so we get to read the high altitude instructions and take longer to boil eggs. Altitude can be turned into an asset. The University has a Center for High Altitude Training (“Where the World Comes to Train”).

The growing season is a surprise:
Even the summers are cool, with a growing season of only 103 days on average. The average date of the last frost is June 13, and the average date of the first frost is September 21. In 1968, the growing season was only 73 days! [3]

Compare Flagstaff’s 103 days to some other cities [4]:
  • Concord, NH - 121
  • Helena, MT - 122
  • Duluth, MN - 122
  • Casper, WY - 123
  • Bismarck, ND - 129
  • Juneau, AK - 133
  • ------
  • Tucson, AZ - 273
  • New Orleans, LA - 288
  • Sacramento, CA - 289
  • Phoenix, AZ - 308
  • Eureka, CA - 324
  • Tampa, FL - 338
We do have sunshine -- about 288 days per year [5]:
Flagstaff is one of the ten sunniest locations of National Weather Service offices in the United States, averaging 78 percent of the possible sunshine throughout the year.
Flagstaff’s temperatures are far from Phoenix’s broadcast high temperatures of over 100 degrees. [6]
  • Annual Daily Max Temp: 61.4
  • Annual Daily Min Temp: 30.9
  • Annual Daily Mean Temp: 46.2
  • Heating degree days (below 65 degrees): 6999
  • Cooling degree days (above 65 degrees): 126
January averages 29.7° F and July, 66.1° F. [7]

The monsoon season normally spans July and August. Clouds will build and thunderstorms will move through the area – about 15 storms each month. Here are the average number of days with thunderstorms. [8]
  • June averages 3.7 days with thunderstorms
  • July averages 16.4 days with thunderstorms
  • August averages 15.6 days with thunderstorms
  • September averages 6.7 days with thunderstorms
  • October averages 2.2 days with thunderstorms
Flagstaff's annual mean precipitation is 22.91 inches and annual mean snowfall is 114.7 inches based on 1971-2000 data. [9] However, this is changing due to an ongoing drought. A University web site lists the annual snowfall as 84.4 inches. It has been declining in recent years. [10]
  • 1990 - 113.4"
  • 1991 - 127.9"
  • 1992 - 158.9"
  • 1993 - 150.0"
  • 1994 - 109.5"
  • 1995 - 99.1"
  • 1996 - 28.5"
  • 1997 - 107.5"
  • 1998 - 136.7"
  • 1999 - 72.0"
  • 2000 - 74.4"
  • 2001 - 125.1"
  • 2002 - 38.9"
  • 2003 - 54.9”
  • 2004 - 50.9”
Sometimes it seems windy but the annual mean wind speed is 6 mile per hour. By comparison, Boston, Massachusetts reports 13 MPH. [11]

That's a look at Flagstaff but we don't live in Flagstaff. We live 25 miles east-northeast of the city at an altitude 1400 feet lower. The prevailing winds are from the southwest so our weather is affected differently by the mountain. Also, within our local environment, we have a micro-climate due to the hills and slope of the land. Knowing about Flagstaff's environment is enjoyable and is a helpful clue but I need to know my small world. More about that in another post.


Blogger Tim Hodgens said...


I enjoyed this post. I have been thinking about the information I take in about the world and am very doubtful about getting an accurate picture from the media.

So that led me to wonder what I would know if I stopped listening to the news on the radio, the TV, and the newspapers - all of which I seldom use anyway. Would I run the risk of being cut off or would it open the possiblity of accessing new information through other channels, and what would they be.

Then you put up this post and it's right on target. What will happen in the climate will influence what is happening local to you now or eventually. When it impacts you then you can make adjustments or do whatever you can at that time. And you are buffered from all of the anxiety hype of climate change (not to deny the reality of it.)

It reminds me of Tip O'Neill's quote..."All politics start locally."

On a different note, your growing season is approimately the same as that for the state of Maine. It would be easy to conclude that it's a tight window...


take a look at Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. He has explored the cold frame and plastic covered tunnel greenhouses without supplementary heat idea and has tremendously extended his whole growing season.

His contention (not just his) is that everyone thinks that the growing season is determined primarily by the temperature, but he has found that if you can isolate the winter vegetables from the wind and weather (without adding additional heat) they will continue to produce in any winter climate.

Apparently the plants are hardy enough to withstand the temperatures provided they get enough sunlight.

The problem in your area, however, may be with having enough water for them.


12/05/2007 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Even though I was a geography teacher and should have known better, I was surprised to find frost on my car windows one fine morning near the end of May when we were down thataway. One begins to forget how significant altitude is.

12/05/2007 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger Whitesnake said...

Statistics are tools not rules....

12/05/2007 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

The moral is "look before you leap." Until I started checking stats I thought AZ and NM were paradise. Paradise is a place where the sky is always blue, the temps balmy and no one can recognize a snow shovel.

12/05/2007 10:49:00 PM  
Blogger arcolaura said...

Wow, sounds like Flagstaff's climate is not much different from ours here in southeast Saskatchewan. Looking forward to hearing about your micro-climate.

12/06/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger anna said...

I visited Flagstaff for about a week several years ago in late October. I absolutely LOVED it! It even snowed while I was there! I didn't realize it snowed anywhere in Arizona.

12/09/2007 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger MojoMan said...

Jeeze! Flag is much cooler than I ever imagined. I can see why your solar heat project is so appealing. Most of my experience with Arizona has been in Scottsdale. I really must get up your way. It sounds wonderful.

12/12/2007 03:10:00 PM  

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