Weather forecasters are predicting a warmer and drier winter for Cochise County.
While that might be good news for “snow birds” and those vacationing in southeast Arizona during the cold weather months, it’s not great news for those who live and work here.
The Tucson office of the National Weather Service reported the recently-ended monsoon (June 15 to Sept. 30) was the second driest and the hottest on record. Tucson recorded just 1.62 inches of rain during monsoon, far below its annual average of about six inches during the three-and-a-half month period.
Sierra Vista, according to rainlog.org, ranged in its precipitation totals from less than three inches to about seven inches, depending on the proximity of the rain gauge to the Huachuca Mountains. Totals in past years have averaged from about nine inches to more than 14 inches during a typical monsoon.
Similar “dry” rainfall totals were recorded in Benson, less than two inches up to seven inches, Willcox, 2.5 to 6.3 inches, Douglas, 2.4 inches, Bisbee, 2.4 to 6.7 inches, and elsewhere in Cochise County.
In addition to dry conditions, temperatures have been extreme. While most of the county doesn’t suffer the scorching recorded in Tucson and Phoenix, temperatures in southeast Arizona were still above 90 degrees throughout most of the monsoon. Sierra Vista usually records temperatures about eight to 10 degrees below Tucson, but that still kept the thermometer well above 90 degrees in June, July, August and September.
Tucson, meanwhile, endured 100 days at 100 degrees or hotter. Phoenix smashed its temperature record with 50 days at or above 110 degrees.
Those who dare prognosticate the weather are anticipating that the high pressure system which has pushed moisture to other parts of the U.S. throughout the summer will continue its hold on Arizona for the rest of the year. That means there won’t be much cloud cover in Cochise County and ample sunshine will keep us usually warm while we enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That “good” weather brings with it an added danger.
A similar dry monsoon and warm temperatures during 2011 created the conditions that generated the Monument Fire in the Sierra Vista area, and the Horseshoe 2 Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains. The former consumed more than 30,000 acres and claimed 72 structures and the latter burned more than 222,000 acres and destroyed 23 structures.
In addition to the very real risk of wildfires, a dry and hot monsoon can dramatically impact the groundwater level and aquifer that feed the San Pedro River and the water basins in eastern Cochise County were agriculture is a primary diver of the local economies.
We urge our readers to be mindful of ongoing wildfire risks in the coming months and to continue water conservation practices to deal with the severe drought and unusually warm weather.
It’s the only way to limit the chance for a reoccurrence of the horrors we experienced in 2011.