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Few storms on horizon as 2019 monsoon winds down

SIERRA VISTA — Rainfall totals across the state remain below average as the monsoon wraps up for another year.

After some rain chances early this week, the storms in Cochise County are expected to begin making their exit for 2019, said Robert Pawlak with the National Weather Service in Tucson. “We do have a drying trend coming in,” he said.

Pawlak said with the monsoon drawing to a close, forecasters are looking for another handful of stormy days at most as fall approaches.

“Since we’re in September, we’re kinda in that transition season, so hopefully we will see a few more good periods, maybe three or four days where we will see storms, but we’re really on the tail end of it, so we should be wrapping up pretty soon.”

As of Sept. 9, Sierra Vista has officially received 5.67 inches of rain, more than two inches below the average of 7.82 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Douglas is nearly 2.5 inches below normal, at 4.48. The average is 6.97. Willcox is 1.75 inches below normal, at exactly 4 inches, when the average is 5.75. Bisbee has seen about 10.6 inches according to a station on weatherunderground.com, about an inch below average.

Pawlak said the rainy season has been underwhelming, mostly due to the typical monsoonal high pressure failing to position where it needs to be to bring in the rain.

“I don’t think we were necessarily expecting it to be this dry, but it’s definitely been drier than normal,” he said. Forecasters had predicted a better than normal chance for an above-average monsoon at the start of the season, but that never materialized.

“For the monsoon pattern to set in, we rely on this giant high-pressure system to sit over either the Four Corners area, or well to the northwest of us over the Great Basin, but for this year it really hasn’t set up like that at all,” he said.

“That high pressure has mainly been sitting farther to the south or southeast, so it really hasn’t been bringing in that moisture from the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Plains like it usually does, so that’s generally why we haven’t seen a strong monsoon season this year.”

He said there is no singular reason for the high pressure not developing as it normally does.

“It’s a variety of factors, you can’t really pinpoint it on one thing,” he said. “It just didn’t want to set up in the right place this year.”

Pawlak said the abnormal monsoon has followed a recent trend of weather not behaving how it usually does.

“It’s been kind of a strange year,” he said. “Before the monsoon even happened, we didn’t have much of a fire season, and then, even going as far back as the beginning of the year, we had a strange winter, so it’s been kind of a bizarre year.”

As the monsoon ends, the Arizona Department of Water Resources is looking for more rain to boost the lackluster season.

“Although El Niño has decayed, there are some weak signals that the next couple of months could be wetter than average across the state,” it said on its website. “However, above normal rainfall may not amount to a substantial accumulation as Arizona enters a drier time of year.”

Currently, about 88 percent of the state is abnormally dry, according to the department. Of that, about 26 percent of the state, mostly to the north, is in a moderate drought.

That’s worse than at the start of the monsoon, when only 15 percent of the state was abnormally dry, and of that area, 4 percent was in moderate drought.

But it’s a marked improvement from a year ago, when the entire state was in a moderate drought, with almost 90 percent in a severe drought, 48 percent in an extreme drought and 8 percent at the worst level, exceptional drought.


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Fee hike proposed for some Sierra Vista refuse services

SIERRA VISTA — The City of Sierra Vista has been losing around $150,000 a year to operate its refuse services, city council members learned during a work session Tuesday, and the results of an 18-month collaboration with a Tucson-based firm aimed at helping the local economy rely less on the military were revealed.

Public works director Sharon Flissar kept council members’ attention when she told them that fees for refuse services the city provides to certain users would be raised. Flissar said the revenues garnered by the current fee schedule are not enough to sustain the financial needs of the Refuse Enterprise Fund.

“We’re losing about $150,000 a year in operational costs (for refuse services provided),” Flissar told the Herald/Review after her presentation. “The fee increases would make up that loss.”

Flissar said the fees would be increased only for people who use the city’s refuse services. Those include the use of residential dumpsters, compost fees and special pick-ups for yard and non-yard waste. In fiscal year 2019 for example, the city did not charge a pull fee for the rental of dumpsters.

The pull fee includes delivery of the dumpster, rental, pickup and disposal of the waste. In fiscal year 2020 though, a resident who rents a 3-cubic-yard dumpster will have to shell out $153.24 for the entire service. The fee jumps to $181.64 if a resident rents a 6-cubic-yard dumpster.

As far as compost goes, Flissar said the city’s compost is so cheap that people were buying it and reselling it for more money. With the proposed fee schedule, Sierra Vista residents who use refuse services will go from paying zero to $10 for an inbound fee for compost, and from $15 to $25 for an outbound fee for screened compost.

Non-residents would pay $10 instead of the $5 they pay now. Special pickups for non-yard waste meanwhile, will spike from $14.40 to $44.85. Special pickups for yard waste will go from zero to $44.85 as well.

“These increased fees could put the fund back in the black,” Flissar told council members.

The other topic the council discussed was the Sierra Vista Technical Assistance Program. The program was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, with the goal of helping the city diversify its economy over a two-year period. The program ended this past August and a final report by Tucson-based Sun Corridor Inc., was presented at Tuesday’s session.

Sun Corridor’s main task was to assist companies seeking to expand their operations in areas not tied to the defense sector, city officials said. Council members learned that only five companies were recruited and 15 new jobs were created, while another 15 were retained.

The partnership with Sun Corridor cost the city just over $200,000. The Defense Department’s grant — which was just over $700,000 for this project and another study on the diversification of the Sierra Vista Municipal Airport.

Council members will vote on these issues at their regular council meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. Other topics they’ll consider include: pre-annexation and development agreement between the city and Cochise Roadworks LLC, an agreement between the city and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and acceptance of a grant from the city of Tucson to pay for overtime for a Sierra Vista police officer to participate in the DEA’s Southern Arizona Major Investigative Team.