“Exceptional” drought.

Record heat.



Oh, Lord. The end is nigh.

Maybe so.

But hey — don’t mean we can’t go skiing.

Granted. We’ve slipped into “Exceptional Drought” according to the U.S. Weather Service. And it’s true — one little hailstorm don’t make a monsoon.

But take heart, all ye heavy hearted: The Farmers’ Almanac predicts a near-normal winter in Arizona, perhaps a little warmer with a little less snow than normal. Only a handful of states can expect a cold, wet winter — notably those in the northeast, high plains and Alaska. The Farmers’ Almanac has been issuing predictions since George Washington was president and by their own calculation have proved accurate about 80% of the time.

Hey, beats playing the lottery.

Granted, it’s hard to remain even cautiously optimistic about anything in this apocalyptic year. But heck, might as well buy a Sunrise ski pass — especially if you qualify for the senior discount. Have some faith. The pandemic will fade. The snow will fall. The planet will cool. And if the asteroid hits, you won’t need the money anyhow.

Well, maybe that’s too much of a buildup to tell you that in the meantime the U.S. Drought Monitor says all of Arizona has slipped into drought conditions, with Gila County, most of Pinal County and all of southern Navajo and Apache County sweltering along in “exceptional” drought. For the first time in a long while, the Navajo Reservation is in better shape than Rim Country and the White Mountains, since the reservation has improved to merely severe — and in some places moderate — drought.

That would explain why the Salt River’s flowing at 22% of normal and the Verde River at 35% of normal, with a paltry monsoon on top of the hottest summer in Arizona’s recorded history going back to the 1800s.

Despite the failed monsoon and the sweltering spring, Roosevelt Lake’s still 86% full and the C.C. Cragin Reservoir is still at 55% full. Never mind the releases all summer and looming rationing of the state’s water share on the Colorado River.

The network of reservoirs on the Salt and Verde Rivers are actually at 84% of capacity compared to 70% last year at the same time. That’s testament to the ability of the reservoir system to smooth out the jigs and jags of rainfall and temperatures in any given season.

Good thing.

We’re in for some weird times ahead, if the gloomy climate scientists know anything.

As we discovered this year — don’t bet the rent on the monsoon.

Some climate models suggest an increase in average global temperatures due to the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere could shift the jet stream — causing the monsoon to fizzle. Kind of like this year.

On the other hand, a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts our monsoon will become both less reliable and more intense in the coming decades. Since the 1970s, the monsoons have become 6% to 11% more intense — based on the amount of rain that falls in a certain time span. Meanwhile, the number of rain events during the monsoon has risen by 15% between 1961 and 2017. Well. Maybe not this year. But it’s the weather.

Worse yet, the climate dudes say we need to resign ourselves to wildfire seasons like this year — during which unseasonal wildfires have ravaged California.

Granted, we didn’t have a 500,000-acre megafire like the Wallow or the Rodeo-Chediski. But two different major fires made a convincing run on Payson. Mostly, the vengeful fire gods have tormented California this year.

The carnage continued this week, with a wildfire in Northern California exploding to 250,000 acres even as another fire in Oregon tore through two towns, consuming 1,000 homes and killing at least two people. One fire near Big Bear, Calif. grew by a mind-boggling 1,000 acres per half hour — burning toward the scar from the 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise and killed 85 people.

So far this year, fires have burned 2.5 million acres in California, 20 times the amount burned at the same time in the fire season last year. Oregon, Washington and Colorado have also faced almost unprecedented drought and fire.

Arizona faced a dangerous spring and early summer fire season, which smoldered on through the summer, when the monsoon faltered.

Rim Country and White Mountains fires still considered active on Inciweb include the 1,200-acre Lofer Fire near Whiteriver, the 9,000-acre Medicine Fire along the upper Salt River, the 61,000-acre Griffin Fire, the 3,000-acre Juniper Fire, the 6,200-acre Hidden Fire, the 22,000 Salt Fire, the 61,000-acre Meddler Fire, the 50-acre Ranch Fire, the 200-acre Pocket Fire, the 33-acre Alder Fire, and the 21,000-acre Cassadore Springs Fire — all on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

The climate experts say their models show more and bigger fires throughout the Southwest in coming decades, together with a less predictable monsoon and earlier snowmelt.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration even before this year’s record-setting heat reported that Phoenix and Tucson had experienced the third and fourth highest average temperature increases of all American cities in the past 50 years — an average of 4.48 degrees in Tucson and 4.35 degrees in Phoenix. That means more free-spending summer heat refugees in Rim Country and the White Mountains. On the other hand, it probably also means we’d better adopt wildland-urban interface and Firewise codes and hope the Arizona Corporation Commission doesn’t strangle the Four Forest Restoration Initiative in its itty bitty cradle.

But wait, this was supposed to be a look on the bright side.

So remember — the Farmers’ Almanac says we’ll get some snow this winter.

So, never mind the exceptional drought.

Buy a ski pass.


Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(2) comments

Steve Brule

"Gloomy client scientists." Sorry that facts and data are gloomy but this whole article reads like you're some anti science climate change denier. Laugh it up now but if things don't shape up we're going to start seeing forest fires in December those aren't my words those are the words of professionals in forestry and climate science.

Mike White

Steve Brule seems to have missed the author's light-hearted writing style used in this article.

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