What southern Arizona’s drought conditions look like heading into warmer months

What southern Arizona’s drought conditions look like heading into warmer months
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:54 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Southern Arizona’s short-term drought conditions significantly improved thanks to 2021′s monsoon, but weather experts warn the public to continue practicing fire safety, saying a fire could spread quickly because of long-term drought conditions and an increase in fire fuels.

“Wildfire season used to start in April, but we know that’s a thing of the past. Wildfire season is year-round,” said KOLD Chief Meteorologist Erin Christiansen. “In the short term a lot of folks think we’ve picked up a lot of rain last year. But it’s a double-edged sword, meaning we’ve gotten the rain we’ve needed but that means the fuel for fires increases. And that will give the fires a bit more to feed off of when one does get started.”

Christiansen said drier than average conditions are expected to continue through spring and so will our drought conditions. January’s average rainfall for Tucson is about .84 of an inch, the same during the month of February and .56 of an inch for March.

John Glueck, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the rain the region received during the monsoon was much needed. Currently, not even 1% of Arizona is in exceptional drought conditions, compared to 72% of the state last year.

“Last year at this time, being exceptionally dry, it was the worst conditions we’ve had this century drought-wise,” Glueck said.

Because the region has been in such an intense drought for decades, the much-needed rain in 2021 did not help southern Arizona’s megadrought. The outlook from the Climate Prediction Center for the remainder of winter through early spring calls for a 40% to 50% chance for below-average valley rain and snow.

“This megadrought actually started in 1999 and what this means is the drought has been ongoing and it has been intense,” Christiansen said. “We’re actually seeing the average time between significant rainfalls increasing. It’s gone from 30 days in the 1970s to about 45 days.”

Weather experts are calling on the public to practice fire safety, especially as more people do things outside. Glueck said that will keep fire crews and resources free for when lighting sparks a wildfire, just like it did the Bighorn Fire.

“As long as mother nature behaves, we’ll have increased fire conditions but as long as it behaves and there’s no big lightning events or anything like that to start a fire, we should be fine,” Glueck said. “We always have that worry of lightning strikes starting fires.”

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