Snowpack and rain great now, but concerns for severe flooding and wildfires loom

A lot of snow is good for the drought but has short-term consequences.
A lot of snow is good for the drought but has short-term consequences.(Wendy)
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 8:23 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Snow fell from Flagstaff to Williams to Sedona to even north Scottsdale, mixed with heavy rainfall across the Valley. It’s a lot of water in a short amount of time. “We know that the Salt River system is going to be full. We’re going to have some overage,” said Rep. David Cook, a Republican from Globe.

Cook is paying close attention to the snowpack’s effects on areas like Tonto Basin, which had previously dealt with devastating flooding and deadly crashes. The recent rains and flooding have stopped work being done to build a bridge so people can safely cross. “The construction company is not letting their people cross the creek until the county actually deems it safe to cross at that water level,” said Cook. SRP said because of these storms, their reservoirs along the Verde River are nearing full capacity and started releasing water to create more capacity. It’s the first water release since 2019.

Scottsdale fire wants residents to know to drive slowly and pay close attention as slick conditions continue.

Flooding from the snowpack is one concern, but the other is fire. Mountains and hiking trails in Arizona have never looked more beautiful with luscious green from the rains. But that’s a catch-22. “You’ve got grass crops down there that is now basically chest high, and the fuel loading in that grass crop is so dense that you’re going to have some pretty fast-moving, high-intensity fires,” said John Truett, a fire management officer with Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Truett said they’re working with federal partners to thin trees and wetlands to make fire season more manageable. “Trying to reduce that fuel load by 50,60, 70% so when fire does reach those communities, it drops down to the ground,” said Truett.

Truett said the snowpack will make for a shorter wildfire season up north because it will melt into the soil and keep it wetter longer, but he expects wildfires to spark and spread fast around 2,000 feet elevation and below, including Phoenix and Tucson. As for Tonto Creek, Rep. Cook said they’re still on track to get that bridge built this fall.