Still No Monsoon

Deadly pattern persists but, rains may come to rescue by next week

A weather system over the Rim.

A weather system over the Rim. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The good news: the Southeast is generating cool moist weather from the Gulf of Mexico. The bad news: the Rim Country will not see any of that until the end of the week.

In the meantime, deadly wildfire weather will continue.

Rim Country residents felt a rush of hope and relief when raindrops rearranged dust on the roads and trails Sunday, but the good feelings were brief. The rain quickly stopped and lightning strikes lit brush on fire.

Emergency crews stationed around the Rim Country squelched several small fires, preventing another conflagration like the Yarnell Hill Fire.

“We had one out by the girls camp (near Christopher Creek),” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, “but there are crews everywhere and they put it out.”

The National Interagency Coordination Center for the Southwest Coordination Center (SWCC) reports that the high pressure zone squatting over New Mexico will not dissolve until the end of the week.

The clockwise circulation of winds around the high pressure zone keep areas close to the high’s center experiencing the hottest and driest conditions. Unfortunately, northern Arizona is part of the area covered by the high pressure.

For Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the SWCC Web site reports the Rim Country should brace for dry lightning, humidity less than 20 percent, and the possibility of winds increasing.

But those living under the shadow of the Rim could also see moisture as it comes into Arizona from the Gulf of Mexico, moving northwest across New Mexico and on into Arizona. With luck, rainfall will increase toward the end of this week and the monsoon pattern will set up next week.

Truly, the Rim Country sits at the crossroads of weather patterns.

Adding to the danger of dry lightning strikes and shifting winds, the surrounding Tonto National Forest is full of manzanita, pointleaf, oak and Sonoran scrub brush. The SWCC reports this fuel has low moisture content from the lack of rains this spring, turning it into dry and ready to burn fuel. Residents must keep from smoking, starting fires, or lighting off explosives or firecrackers.

By the Fourth of July, however, the SWCC calls for weather conditions to change to merely “very dry,” with a smaller risk of out of control fire. Mayor Evans said that the town’s fireworks show will continue as planned, potentially drawing 20,000 visitors. However, the town has met with the company staging the show to review fire precautions — including a plan to reduce the firepower of the fireworks.

Many Payson residents have been unsettled to awake to a layer of smoke that seems to float down from the Rim. The SWCC’s smoke dispersion forecast guidance report shows smoke from the Arizona wildfires and the 133,000-acre Silver Fire in New Mexico spreading over the Rim Country. Sometimes the smoke layer drops to 500 feet, sometimes it rises to 7,000 feet.

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