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Tue, March 31

Monsoon precipitation up in the air
Weather factors make fire season predictions a tough call

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Climate experts say it's tough to predict whether persistent drought conditions in northern Arizona will be quelled by monsoon season this year.

Northern Arizona's drought conditions will either remain the same or intensify across the entire state through July, said George Howard, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Bellemont.

"It's going to take quite a while for us to recover," he added.

Beyond that, the next three months, from August throughout October, will bring above average temperatures.

"We will still get some below average conditions but averaging things out, we have pretty high confidence temperatures will be above average," Howard said at a Forest Service media workshop in Flagstaff on May 10. "Now we have above normal fire potential in southeast Arizona. We aren't predicting where the fire potential will be, we are predicting seeing normal fire potential. In June and July, that prediction will increase to above normal conditions in the mountain areas."

Wind conditions have also played a part in unique spring activity this month.

"This spring has been a little bit odd," Howard said, referencing the lower wind speeds. "Typically, when the storm tracks this time of year we end up with storms screaming through the Great Basin, we are to the south, we get all the wind and we don't see much precipitation. The weather pattern recently has been more amplified. Instead of seeing storms streaking from west to east we are seeing a north south influence."

Looking ahead to the summer climate experts agree that, when it comes to monsoon season predictions, they aren't certain what will happen. The weather pattern needs to take a turn toward El Nino in order for precipitation to relieve wildfire season.

"Precipitation wise, we aren't much help here," Howard said. "There will be low variability throughout July, and perhaps a little bit below average when it comes to early fall although there is low confidence in this forecast."

This year's precipitation has fallen by more than 40 percent compared to a 30-year average.

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