PHOENIX — One of the biggest differences between the summer of 2020 and the summer of 2021 will be evident across Arizona and the interior Southwest, weather forecasters predict.
Veteran meteorologist Paul Pastelok, who leads AccuWeather’s team of long-range forecasters, has painted a picture of what people can expect across the West this summer, which officially begins at 11:32 p.m. on June 20.
“This year, we do feel we see signs that the monsoon will be stronger than last year and will provide enough precipitation to at least help the folks in the short term in the interior Southwest,” Pastelok said.
Last summer, the monsoon was virtually non-existent with barely any rain falling across the region. Las Vegas went 240 consecutive days without measurable rainfall (0.01 of an inch or greater), smashing the previous record by nearly 100 days, the National Weather Service said.
Phoenix also experienced an exceptionally dry summer last year, and the lack of clouds and rain from the monsoon propelled the city to break the record for the most 110-degree days in a calendar year. The city tallied 53 days at or above 110 F, blowing past the previous record of 33 days set in 2011. The city is not likely to come close to this record again in 2021 due to the moisture from the monsoon.
Moisture and thunderstorms associated with the monsoon are expected to ramp up in July and last into September, periodically sparking flash flooding and dust storms while also delivering beneficial rainfall to the region.
“Around 45% of the U.S. is under at least minor drought conditions,” Pastelok said, with a majority of the interior Southwest experiencing severe, long-term drought conditions. This includes nearly all of Arizona, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.
Pastelok added that although the monsoon this year will be much more active than last summer, it may be far from one of the wettest on record. It is not likely that enough precipitation will fall to erase the long-lasting drought conditions.
West braces for active fire season
California experienced its third-driest winter in history which has left water reservoir levels well below normal, and with minimal snowpack across the mountains, there will not be much snowmelt to feed the reservoirs throughout the summer.
A drought emergency was issued for several counties in California on April 20 due to drought conditions with the potential for Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a more widespread drought emergency in the coming months.
Water use restrictions are likely to “come into play during the course of the summer season,” Pastelok added.
The parched earth has left vegetation dry ahead of the hot summer, setting the stage for another active wildfire season across California.
Researchers from San Jose State recently found that moisture content levels in vegetation samples were the lowest in a decade.
“We might have bigger fires earlier in the season than we typically would if we had more of a wet year,” Craig Clements of San Jose University Fire Weather Research Laboratory told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.
Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Northern California will face the highest risk of early summer wildfires before the fire threat shifts as the season progresses.
In 2020, Colorado experienced its four largest wildfires in state history. The Cameron Peak Fire was the biggest, scorching more than 208,000 acres. Previously, the record for the largest wildfire was more than 139,000 acres set in 2020.
Northern California is another area of concern to Pastelok early in the summer with the potential for several significant fires. This is the same part of the state that fell under a lightning siege last summer with lightning bolts sparking several fires that went on to become among the largest in the state’s history.
This includes the August Complex fire, which initially consisted of dozens of small fires sparked by lightning that eventually grew and merged into one large firestorm that engulfed more than 1 million acres.
Although the winter and spring were not nearly as dry across the Pacific Northwest as it was across California, the hot and dry summer weather will lead to an elevated wildfire risk across the region as well.
The fire danger across Nevada, California, southern Oregon and southern Montana is of particular concern to Pastelok later in the summer and into early autumn.
Pastelok warned that people should “be prepared” for a potentially intense fire season. This includes brushing up on a few simple tips that could make a big difference if a fire approaches.
GILBERT — A $3 million bond has been set for a man arrested on suspicion of leading police on a high-speed vehicle chase last week in Pinal County and the East Valley in which a police officer was killed and another was seriously injured.
Authorities said 25-year-old Jonathan Altland Jr. led the chase Thursday night that ended at a Gilbert car dealership where Chandler Officer Christopher Farrar was fatally injured and Gilbert Officer Rico Aranda suffered a head injury.
Authorities said the pursuit began on State Route 87 near Eloy when Altland opened fire on the vehicle of a Pinal County sheriff’s deputy who tried to pull him over for speeding in a pickup truck that was later discovered to be stolen.
As he headed to Chandler, Altland is accused of driving the wrong way down a roadway at speeds as high as 100 mph, crashing through a gate at Chandler Municipal Airport, driving the wrong way down a freeway and crashing into a fence on an embankment.
Investigators said he fled on foot, entered the nearby car dealership, struck a manager with another vehicle and sped out of the service bay area, leading officers to open fire as Altland accelerated toward them.
Authorities say Altland continued driving through a parking lot, striking Farrar and slamming into a parked vehicle that hit Aranda. Farrar was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Altland, who has been booked, remains at a hospital for treatment of his injuries, which were not life-threatening, police said.
It’s unclear whether an attorney has been appointed to defend Altland.
Arizona court records show a Jonathon Altland of the same age from Tolleson who pleaded guilty to speed greater than reasonable or prudent in 2019 out of Oracle Justice Court in Pinal County.
Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry records show a man with the same name was released from the Arizona State Prison in Kingman in 2017 after serving nearly a year and a half for attempt to commit unlawful use of means of transportation, a drug paraphernalia violation and theft of means of transportation in Pima County.
FLORENCE — Pinal County Public Health Director Tascha Spears reports that significant percentages of Pinal adults have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have all been through a lot this past year but it looks like we are turning the corner for healthier summer months,” she said in her post. But whether the county is nearing the coveted goal of “herd immunity” is more difficult to say, she said in an interview with PinalCentral.
“I think we have to be very careful when we try to achieve certain numbers, like certain percentages. … I try to suggest maybe we don’t focus as much on the numbers.” A more useful measure might be how much active infections are down, she said.
Back in January, more than 20% of people testing for COVID-19 were positive. Lately it’s been down to 5 or 6% on a weekly basis, “which is great news,” Spears said. After thousands of cases in January, on April 29 the county was down to just 54 new cases and zero deaths, she said.
Hospitalizations in the state’s central region are better as well, with only 2.6% of beds occupied by patients with COVID-related illness. Only 2% of emergency room visits are now related to COVID.
“Those are the kinds of things I think are important for us to also look at, all of those things together,” Spears said.
Spears said the county doesn’t push vaccines but tries to ensure people have the information to make informed decisions. She said this includes “making sure anyone who wants to get vaccinated understands what emergency use authorization means; that they understand what the potential side effects are; that they understand what the benefits of vaccination are as well.”
Spears said some people show up for their appointments at vaccination sites and say they’re not really sure they want the shot. “We spend a lot of time with those individuals, go over the information sheet and allow them to go home and think about it. We are very committed to making sure people have the information to make that decision.”
So far, more than 211,000 people in Pinal County have said yes to the vaccine. Spears reported on the county website Friday that 70.9% of Pinal residents 65 and older; 53.5% of those 55-64 years of age; 40.4% of those 45-54; and 30% of those 35-44 have been vaccinated.
Vaccines may soon be available to teens, she told PinalCentral. Spears said there has been pilot testing of children for the last several months, and Pfizer was the first to begin this testing. “I would suggest we would be looking fairly soon to emergency use authorization for children age 12 and up.”
Spears also reported on her web post that on April 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to quarantine if they’ve been around someone who has COVID-19. They also don’t need to be tested unless they develop symptoms. Those who live in correctional institutions or group homes are still advised to get tested.
“Fully vaccinated” is achieved two weeks after a patient’s second shot or single dose of Johnson & Johnson, Spears said.
But overall interest in COVID vaccines remains in decline locally and statewide, Spears said. She said it’s difficult to say if this is due simply to most people who wanted the vaccine have received it, or worries related to the “pause” in giving the Johnson & Johnson, or Janssen, vaccine.
The CDC lifted the pause on April 23, along with a recommendation there be a warning about the rare blood clotting disorder that prompted the pause.