Weather Service Predicts Scorching, Dry Months For Latest News
It’s official: buckle up.
Despite the recent snowfall, the US Weather Service says Arizona says we are all facing a mostly normal February, hot, dry spring, and early, scary fire season.
The widespread snowfall dramatically reduces the humidity of the fuel in the forest. Before the storm hit, we flirted with a record-breaking Energy Release Component (ERC) when it comes to the moisture levels of plants and cut wood on the forest floor. Now that the snowfall is melting the fuels are much wetter than normal for this time of year.
But that’s about it for the good news.
The prognosis indicates roughly the same chances. February will either be drier and hotter than normal or cooler and wetter than normal. Translation – Bet on normal rain and cold for the next three weeks.
Then it goes south.
The chances are good that we will have “warmer and drier average conditions” from February to April.
And that leads to another sweatball fire season with higher than normal temperatures and probably normal rainfall. Unfortunately, the normal amount in May and June is zilch. Even in a normal year, Show Low and Payson both get about an inch of rain for those two months combined.
This adds up to the chances of a “significant prospect of forest fires” and the continuation of the current exceptional drought in much of the state.
The above-average forest fire risk starts in April in the lower elevations and rises in May and June in the White Mountains.
At this point we have to hope that the monsoon shows up early and wet, unlike last year’s “nonsoon”. Unfortunately, many climate models based on the steady rise in global mean temperatures suggest that the Arizona monsoons are likely to become increasingly capricious. That is, we will increase in years with hardly any monsoons and in years with unusually violent storms. Worst of all will be relatively dry years, which still bring with them lots of dry thunderstorms – setting fires without dumping the fuels.
What we really need is a full month of major storms in the spring – enough to at least temporarily drive away the drought across the state. We got that last year.
This year – don’t hold your breath.
Despite the recent storm, almost all of Navajo County and the southern half of Apache County remain in “exceptional” drought. Northern Apache County in the high plateaus of the Navajo Reservation is currently only in an “extreme” drought.
The entire state is currently in drought, compared to just 30% at the same time last year when we went from a wet winter to a bone-dry spring and summer.
We are currently in record territory based on how much of the state is still in drought at this point in winter. Current conditions dwarf the worst burn times ever recorded, including the years that saw the Wallow, Schultz, Yarnell and Rodeo Chediski originate. The closest comparisons would be the tinder fire in 2018 and the bush fire last year. After experiencing a much wetter winter last year, Arizona essentially set the record for acres burned – nearly a million.
So don’t postpone weeding, remove the brush from the house, keep roofs and gutters clear of leaves and pine needles, and pack the emergency evacuation box.
Fortunately, we still have some time before the weird months – with more or less normal rain and temperatures in February.
In Show Low, the average February is typically 1.08 inches of rain and 4 inches of snow. The average temperatures in February are 58 degrees on the high side and 31 degrees on the low side.
Late last week, some of the streams that drained from White Mountain and the rim were supported by the melting snow, while others remained below normal. The Salt River at Roosevelt was only 46% of normal and the Verde River was 86% of normal. However, according to the Salt River Project’s daily water report, Tonto Creek was 146% of normal.
Fortunately, Roosevelt Lake remained 82% full, with reservoirs downstream on the Salt River making up more than 90%.
Peter Aleshire covers county government and other issues for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at [email protected]