updated 2/9/2006 11:43:02 AM ET 2006-02-09T16:43:02

Gov. Janet Napolitano has summoned members of Arizona's new drought response team and asked them to help the state cope with one of the worst dry spells in decades.

The governor's task force created the statewide drought plan, which was adopted in 2004 and outlines a series of steps aimed at anticipating drought, assessing its effects and disbursing aid across the state.

This year is shaping up as drier than any in at least a century in Arizona.

No rain has fallen in Phoenix for a record 114 days and counting, and Flagstaff has received just 1.6 inches of snow this season — 56 inches less than normal.

Brittle forests and rangelands around the state have produced wildfire conditions usually not seen until June or July.

Long-range forecasts call for continued warm and dry weather over Arizona well into the spring, increasing the risk of water shortages in rural communities that rely on runoff-fed wells.

Climate experts say that if an abrupt shift in weather patterns doesn't happen soon, perhaps by early to mid-March, some areas of the state might not see significant precipitation until the summer monsoon.

Even that's no guarantee: Last year's rainy season sputtered through with below-normal rainfall.

So far, less precipitation has been recorded this year than in 2002, which wound up as the driest year in Arizona's recorded history and one of the driest in 500 years, according to paleoclimate records culled from tree-ring studies.

Last month was the third-driest January statewide, and the month before was the driest December on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center, whose records date to the late 1800s. November through January also broke the record for those three months.

The governor's drought team will begin assessing the resources needed to carry out the drought plan, said Rodney Held, drought section manager for the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

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