Spring is in the air.

Oh, wait. Is that summer?

Don’t ask the US Weather Service — all the news coming out of those guys is grim.

And whatever you do — don’t ask Geophysical Research Letters whether our millennial drought will get better.

So here’s the bad news: First the short term; then the long term.

And if you want to skip ahead to the punchline — you’d best trim the brush back from the house, pressure the city council to adopt a fire-adapted building code and prepare your evacuation suitcase — with preplanned space for all the critical documents and irreplaceable keepsakes.

So first — short term.

With March in the rear-view mirror, the US Weather Service hasn’t budged from the prediction that we’ll have a hot, dry spring with a dangerous fire outlook — at least until the monsoon arrives in July. A potentially hot, wet monsoon will likely douse the high fire danger.

At the moment, fuels aren’t too dry — but that won’t last, says the Weather Service.

“Near to below-average precipitation in March has allowed severe to exceptional drought conditions to continue across northern Arizona,” said the forecast issued this week.

By some measures, we’re now in the worst drought in nearly 1,000 years — which is about as far back as tree ring records allow us to compare one year to another.

As a result, all of Gila County now swelters in “extreme drought.” Most of Navajo and Apache counties rate as “exceptional drought.”

Currently, 100% of the state remains in drought conditions, compared to just 24% at this point last year – coming out of the first normal winter in a couple of years. Heck – that may prove to be the only thing to miss about 2020.

Mind you, last year we had a wet winter and still managed to burn a million acres. This year, a larger percentage of state’s in extreme drought at this point than in any of the big wildfire years – including the Rodeo-Chediski and the Wallow.

Don’t look for much improvement in the next three months as we head into the peak of the fire season. The weather service says “odds favor” drier, hotter conditions than normal all the way into July.

The one little splatter of good news comes in the prospect for a wet monsoon in July-September. “The extended outlook favors above normal temperatures, with odds tilted in favor of a wetter than average monsoon season across Arizona.”

And if that hasn’t convinced you to clear the brush and insist the county supervisors and town councils adopt a wildfire-adapted building code, then consider this.

By the end of this century, summer in the Northern Hemisphere will likely last for six months instead of three, according to a study published in the journal of the American Geophysical Union.

That will significantly extend the fire season in the high country.

Granted, places like Payson and Show Low may become something of climatic sweet spot — at least compared to the scorching swelter of Phoenix six months of summer temperatures. But that’s only going to boost the tourist trade if we don’t burn down along the way.

The conclusions grew from an analysis of climate data from 1952 to 2011 by researchers from three universities, including the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology and the Chinse Academy of Sciences.

The team defined summer as the onset of the hottest 25% of temperatures over that 60-year span. Then they plugged those numbers into climate models that predict the impact of the steady increase in global temperatures due to the effects of the steady buildup of heat-trapping pollutants in the atmosphere.

The study found that summer grew from 78 days to 95 days between 1952 and 2011, while winter shrank from 76 to 73 days. Spring and autumn each shrank by about 10 days. The changes were most pronounced in the Mediterranean and the Tibetan Plateau.

If you project those trends forward, then summer in the Northern Hemisphere will grow from 95 days to perhaps 180 days by the end of this century.

This will have a tremendous change on everything from bird migrations to the ranges of disease-carrying mosquitoes — not to mention air conditioning bills in Phoenix.

But for the high county, the biggest single impact may come in the form of a longer, more intense fire season, concluded the researchers.

So don’t put off Firewising the homestead.

April looks bad.

May looks worse.

June looks terrifying.

The 21st century ain’t gonna be no picnic in the woods.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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