January storms alleviate drought - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

January storms alleviate drought

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Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010 3:35 pm | Updated: 3:50 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

January's storms put a big dent in the state's drought and filled reservoirs powering Valley homes and businesses, but it's too soon to know if they will help dampen summer wildfires.

The fire season could be a mild one if the state gets more moisture through April or May, said Valerie Meyers, fire weather program manager at the National Weather Service's Phoenix office. The additional moisture would effectively shorten the season, which starts in April and ends with the first monsoon rains in July.

But if things dry up, the storms that lasted from Jan. 18 to Jan. 23 and produced more than 10 inches of precipitation in parts of Arizona could actually exacerbate the risk of wildfires by triggering the growth of new vegetation in the lower elevations.

That vegetation eventually dies and dries out, providing ideal kindling for fire, Meyers said.

"There are just going to be copious amounts," she said of the grasses, weeds and shrubs that will flourish thanks to the additional moisture.

Salt River Project's reservoir system on the Salt and Verde river watershed, meanwhile, is about 95 percent full thanks to January's storms.

The agency said melting snow accounts for up to 80 percent of the utility's six reservoirs in the watershed.

"I've been measuring snowpack for five years, and there is more snow on the watershed than I've ever seen," said James Walter, an SRP meteorologist in a statement. "We haven't experienced conditions like this since the early 1990s."

Mike McLane, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service, said he expects only modest changes in drought conditions.

An end to the drought, which has been on and off since 1996, would require a restoration of ground water supplies and recovery in the state's vegetation, among other things, McLane said.

"We would have to see another good event like the one we had in January," he said.

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