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Wed, Nov. 13

Drought drives area's fire danger higher

Courier file/Jo. L. Keener

Tom Carney, developed recreation manager, U.S. Forest Service, Bradshaw District holds a sign that advises users of the Prescott National Forest that all areas are closed until further notice.

August set a new record for lack of precipitation, while February, May and June tied previous records of zero precipitation.

Monthly precipitation has been less than the 104-year average for more than a year now.

As of the end of November, Prescott had received 5.63 inches of precipitation, adding up to only 32 percent of the historical average of 17.65 inches for that same time period over the last 104 years.

The Weather Service is predicting slightly above-average precipitation for the winter months of December through February because of El Niño, which warms a large area of the tropical Pacific Ocean to influence weather patterns throughout the United States and even worldwide.

Things already are looking up with this month's snow. At the Prescott measuring site, 0.48 inches of precipitation fell during a series of snowfalls between Dec. 16 and Dec. 24.

However, the area needs years of above-average precipitation to catch up.

Some weather experts believe that this area is in for a continuous drought that won't end until sometime between 2015 and 2025.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is what some officials think will cause the drought to continue.

That weather cycle changes every 20 to 30 years, explained Mike Staudenmaier of the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

In 1995, it changed to its dry phase after three decades of above-average moisture.

During the past seven years, this area's annual precipitation has been less than average except for one year in which El Niño affected it.

So even though it's naturally arid here, people should be prepared for drier weather than they've ever experienced unless they lived here during the 1950s.

To learn more about the regional drought, visit the federal government's drought monitor Web site at www.drought.noaa.gov.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com or 445-8179, ext. 2035.

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