Predicted Arizona dry year could impact trees, cause fires

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Experts have predicted another dry year for Arizona following 2020, when the driest year on record stressed forests across the state's northern region.

The dry conditions could have significant impacts on the health of trees and increase wildfire danger, Arizona Daily Sun reported Saturday.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Flagstaff experienced only 9.56 inches (24 centimeters) of precipitation in 2020.

Coconino County, which reaches to the northern border with Utah and includes Grand Canyon National Park, experienced what was termed an exceptional drought.

Ponderosa pine forests across northern Arizona are already stressed by overgrown forests and a warming climate. Adding drought can be “a little bit of a one-two punch," said Andrew Sanchez Meador, executive director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University.

Dry forests pose other risks, including increased wildfire potential.

Neil Chapman, Flagstaff's forest health supervisor, said in an email that 2020 drought likely means earlier fire restrictions and other public land impacts this summer, while ongoing dry winter conditions raise the fire risk throughout this year

“We all have seen the changes in our annual precipitation patterns and drought conditions worsen. The result is our community is now often at risk of experiencing an unplanned wildfire any time of the year,” Chapman said.