Unexpectedly good rainfall; will the fire morels pop?

The Flagstaff/Sedona area is waking up wetter than expected this morning, with up to 6 inches of snow on the higher mountain terrain, and rainfall in lower elevations amounting to over 2 inches in some places. In conjunction with the big rainstorm of early March, the region is now about 2 inches ahead of the normal rainfall accumulation for this date, and much wetter than this time last year. This bodes well for a morel flush, although the warm winter and spring meant most of it fell as rain rather than the snow that morels love so much.

Rainfall on 4-26-2015


Morel fans will be especially pleased to hear that last year’s Slide Fire, denoted by a red arrow on the images above, was among the sites that received the most moisture out of this storm. The map on the left is the 7-day cumulative precipitation from the National Weather Service, essentially all of which fell Thursday through Sunday. The map on the right is this morning’s 24 hour precipitation as reported by AccuWeather, although in my experience, this map tends to overestimate rainfall amounts. If you read the “inches” scale as “centimeters” on the image at right, it’s probably not far wrong.

USGS 09504420 Oak Creek Gauge

These radar-based estimates are supported by the terrestrial rain gauge at the USGS hydrology station in Oak Creek, which reports almost two and a half inches of precipitation in the past two days, with a corresponding rise in the streamflow. This is just downhill from the Slide Fire burn, which lies on the western rim of Oak Creek Canyon.

Unfortunately, the San Juan Fire and the rest of our hunting grounds in the White Mountains were not quite so lucky. There is still some likelihood that they will see more rain out of this eastbound storm later today, after the Flagstaff area has cleared. However, they also did not get as good a drenching in March as the Flagstaff/Sedona area did, and our readers in the White Mountains report very dry and dusty conditions. We’ll hope for better, and pass along any news of morels in the area, but for now it appears that the spectacular flush seen on the San Juan last fall will not be repeated. Morel fanciers will want to concentrate on the Slide Fire.


The upcoming week looks hopeful for conducive temperatures, with the Flagstaff area seeing highs around 70 degrees and lows around 40 degrees. As the sweet spot for morel fruiting is a soil temperature of 50-60 degrees, we may get to see some growth by this weekend, and if not, the week after. The chill and dusting of snow from this weekend should not be a factor for long.

Mogollon Rim boletes 08-27-2014

(Rob Mize)

I am tentatively planning a scouting trip up to the Slide next weekend, and would be pleased to meet up with others who might be interested. Get in touch with me here or on our Facebook group page, or look for my brown Toyota Tacoma 4-door pickup with an Arizona Mushroom Club sticker out in the boonies.

Speaking of the Mushroom Club, I would like to repeat a request I’ve made several times before: Please keep the Club in mind if you stumble upon a large fruiting of morels, sufficient to support calling a group foray. Inform me or the Club leadership, don’t blab about it too specifically on Facebook, and let yourself bask in the good will of your mushroom-loving friends and compatriots when your generosity allows them to enjoy the same delight you felt when you found them. Follow the Golden Rule!

And by all means, fill your baskets full, but once you’ve collected enough for a few good meals, leave the smaller ones that are the size of your thumb or less. They will grow further over the course of a week or so, foolish myths about instantaneous overnight growth notwithstanding.

IMG_4524If you find enough morels to make the trip worthwhile, but not so many that a large group foray is warranted, consider keeping it “in the family” on our private forum, the Fellowship of the Fire Morel. I’ll be more inclined to reveal details there than on the wide-open Facebook group.

That said, if we are so lucky as to see the morels come up this spring, there should be plenty for everyone. There are 21,000+ acres of burn on the Slide Fire, of which at least 15,000 acres are suitable habitat for fire morels. Typical morel production the first year after a forest fire is about 5 pounds per acre. There are no more than 750 members of this website and the Facebook group combined. At least theoretically, if you do the math, there may be as much as 100 pounds of delicious morels out there waiting for each of us. It only requires you to put one foot in front of the other, up hill and down…

Looking forward, there are reports that the weak El Niño phenomenon from this past winter may persist and strengthen for another year. While the El Niño effect that increases winter precipitation in the Southwest is well established, the effect on the summer monsoons is more mixed. The long-range outlook being reported by the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the rest of this spring, summer, and early fall does look pretty favorable at present, however:

JJA-precip-outlook-2015 ASO-precip-outlook-2015

Here’s to another great year, hopefully the 3rd good year in a row!


UPDATE 4:00 pm 4/26/2015: Heard back from a reader who is up there now. Soil temps are around 44 degrees, which is a little too cold for morel fruiting, but only slightly. No Discina, Peziza, or other indicator species yet. There is very good soil moisture down to about 4 cm, and the outlook for the coming three or four weeks seems good, although next weekend may still be a bit too cool. Road access is challenging due to deep mud, so bring your 4×4 if you decide to go out.

About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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One Response to Unexpectedly good rainfall; will the fire morels pop?

  1. D Reiner says:

    Woke up this morning to rain falling off the roof again here in Flag. Almost first thoughts were about when those fantastic morels would pop and about where to try first. If I catch a glimpse of any I will surely give a shout out to let you know that they have appeared. Chris, your comments sure get me excited of finding some this year. Thanks.

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