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2017 the third hottest year on record in Flagstaff

Last year was the third warmest on record in Flagstaff and the final three-month stretch of 2017 was the driest on record, according to the National Weather Service.

The city saw just 0.01 inches of precipitation from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, compared to the 5.39 inches that is normal for that time period. Just three other years since 1899 have logged more than 90 days with 0.01 inches of precipitation or less.

Nine record high temperatures were tied or broken throughout the year, which is the most in the past 10 years, though the top number of record high temperatures in a year was 18 days in 1977.  

The city also saw 10 days with temperatures that hit 90 degrees or higher. Seven of them came in one blistering streak in June that sent residents scrambling to buy fans and air conditioners.

Even so, the top temperature of the year — 93 degrees on June 23 — didn’t come close to Flagstaff’s all-time record high of 97 degrees set in 1973.  

Two record low temperatures were also tied or broken in 2017.

Last year’s average annual temperature was 48.7 degrees, making it the fourth consecutive year above the normal of 46.3 degrees. Seven out of the last 10 years have been above that number, which is calculated by adding the average high and low temperatures of the year and dividing by two.

Thanks to healthy snow and rainfall earlier in the year, including a 36-inch snowstorm in January, Flagstaff finished the year with 18 inches of precipitation. That’s nearly 4 inches below normal though.

The 76.2 inches of snow that fell over the area is also short of normal by nearly 25 inches.

Looking to the next three months, the long-term precipitation outlook calls for a continuation of below-average precipitation across Arizona.

With a 10 percent chance of rain on Saturday that is the only precipitation in the forecast, this winter will soon creep up to the third latest first snowfall on record. The latest ever is Jan. 15 in 2006.

Other cities in the state also broke weather records in 2017.

It was the warmest year ever for both Phoenix and Tucson. There were 14 days when Phoenix broke or tied record high temperatures while Tucson had the most daily record temperatures set or tied in a year since 1989, according to the Associated Press. On June 20, Phoenix saw its fourth highest temperature ever recorded when the mercury hit 119 degrees. Tucson heated up to 116 degrees that same day, which is the city’s second highest temperature on record.  

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Heading by train to Grand Canyon? Williams Amtrak station closes, forcing shuttle from Flagstaff

WILLIAMS  — The train rolled in well past sunset as a couple of shuttle drivers waited at a dimly lit platform for passengers headed to the Grand Canyon.

After loading the shuttles, the last driver turned off the lights, closing down the Williams Junction station as the Amtrak train faded into the distance.

The routine had become one of passengers' most treasured experiences in the American West, but it ended with the new year. The company that runs the shuttle service between the train stop and the small city of Williams 3 miles (5 kilometers) away said it was becoming too much of a burden, effectively closing the station.

"I'm very sad to see it close because the whole history of this area — Williams and the Grand Canyon — is based on the trains bringing people out this way," said Jim Sigmon, a Prescott resident who traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, with his wife over the holidays via Williams Junction.

Amtrak's twice-daily trains between Los Angeles and Chicago have stopped at the station since at least 1999, when a company that runs a nearby hotel built it to serve passengers on its own rail line to the Grand Canyon.

Xanterra Parks and Resorts bought the Grand Canyon Railway in 2007 and decided last year to stop the free shuttle service at Williams Junction. As of Monday, passengers are picked up and dropped off in the Northern Arizona city of Flagstaff, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away.

Railway spokesman Bruce Brossman said the train schedules were inconsistent, and passengers who arrived late at night or before dawn lingered in the hotel lobby — sleeping on couches, with nowhere else to go, and making guests and staff uncomfortable.

The shuttles also took a beating on the rough road to the station, he said.

"We really think that it's going to be a better experience for the train passengers to go to a real train depot in Flagstaff," Brossman said.

Those who have used the station don't want to see Williams forgotten if people choose to drive from Flagstaff directly to the Grand Canyon. Built on ranching and the railroad, the small city was among the last in Arizona to have Route 66 bypassed by Interstate 40.

For Mike Kinsey, arriving at Williams Junction with his wife and son was an adventure. He said his family like offbeat places, and it fit the bill.

"Frankly, I was thinking I should have my pistol hidden under my jacket because it's out in the boonies," the South Carolina resident said. "It's just really remote. Nothing bad, but it's just a little odd."

In comparison, the train depot in downtown Flagstaff is open around the clock and has hotels, restaurants and other businesses within walking distance.

Trace Ward, director of the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city has been working with Amtrak to let passengers know what's open around their scheduled arrivals and departures.

"We're hopeful that it means more economic impact via tourism for the city," he said.

US sees surge in women interested in running for office

ATLANTA (AP) — Inside a classroom at a community college in Dallas, about two dozen women took turns sharing their names, hometowns and what they hoped would be their future titles.

Congresswoman. State representative. County judge.

It was part of a training held by EMILY's List, an organization dedicated to electing women at all levels of government who support abortion rights. One of the presentation's PowerPoint slides flashed a mock advertisement on the projector screen: "Help Wanted: Progressive Women Candidates."

A record number of women appear to be answering that call, fueled largely by frustration on the Democratic side over the election of President Donald Trump and energized by Democratic women winning races in Virginia in November. Experts say 2018 is on track to be a historic year, with more women saying they are running at this point than ever before.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List. "Every day, dozens more women come to our website, come to our Facebook page and say, 'I am mad as hell. I want to do something about it. What should I do now?'"

In the four weeks after the 2016 election, 1,000 women came to the group's website to learn about running for office. That number has now surpassed 26,000. By comparison, the group was in contact with 960 women for the previous election cycle.

Whether all that enthusiasm will result in full-fledged campaigns and translate to gains in the number of women elected to office remains to be seen.

Although women are more than half the American population, they account for just a fifth of all U.S. representatives and senators, and one in four state lawmakers. They serve as governors of only six states and mayors in roughly 20 percent of the nation's most populous cities.

For Sarah Riggs Amico, the executive chairwoman of a major auto hauling company, last year's Women's March in Atlanta ignited her interest in running for office.

"It was something that really lifted me up and made me want to demand better from my government," said Amico, who recently announced plans to run for lieutenant governor in Georgia.

Sol Flores has been walking in marches with her mother in Chicago since she was a little girl, but never thought she would run for office. Now 44, Flores said she was enraged by policies put forward by the Trump administration and decided to jump into a crowded Democratic primary for Illinois' 4th Congressional District.

Flores said her network of friends has been crucial to helping her navigate the realities of being a first-time candidate and the challenges of gathering signatures for qualifying and fundraising.

"Women are really good at this, saying, 'Let's sit down and figure this out. You raised your hand, and let's win. Let's go to Washington, D.C.,'" said Flores, the executive director of a nonprofit helping homeless families and at-risk youth.

The last time the U.S. saw a surge in women running for office was 1992, in the wake of Anita Hill's testimony before an all-male U.S. Senate committee weighing the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was called the "Year of the Woman" because women were elected to the U.S. House and Senate in record numbers.

The number of women in office has held steady in recent years, but experts say conditions are ripe for an increase in 2018 — especially if more politicians are forced to step down or retire amid the growing #MeToo movement that began with accusations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein.

One U.S. senator and four congressmen have so far announced plans to retire or not seek re-election following allegations against them, presenting a prime opportunity for women to compete for their open seats. For example, seven women have expressed interest in an April special election for an Arizona congressional seat.

The increase in women candidates is largely being seen in U.S. House and governor's races next year and driven primarily by Democrats, said Debbie Walsh, who leads the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In addition to the 50 Democratic and 10 Republican congresswomen expected to run for re-election, there are 183 Democratic women and 14 Republican women running in primaries to challenge their current U.S. representative.

These can be uphill races, but many of the women running say they were encouraged by what happened in Virginia in November, when 30 percent of the women who challenged their state representative won.

Katie Hill is among those seeking to oust her local congressman, Republican Rep. Steve Knight in California's 25th Congressional District, a key Democratic target this year.

As an advocate for the homeless, Hill recalled the joy she felt on the night of the 2016 election when voters in Los Angeles passed a $1.2 billion bond measure for housing and services for homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless. But that was quickly tempered by the outcome of the presidential election.

"November made us all realize that our country is not where we need to be," Hill said. "And that's the point when people start to stand up and say, 'If no one else is going to fix, I'm going to.'"

It's not just Democrats. First-time Republican and Libertarian women candidates are also jumping into the mix.

Republicans launched an effort in 2012 that is focused on electing women. Under the "Right Women, Right Now" program, 390 new GOP women have been elected since then.

"Twenty-five percent of state legislators are women, and that's clearly insufficient," said Matt Walter, head of the Republican State Leadership Committee. "That's a Democratic and Republican number, and something we really felt strongly was something we needed to change."

Tiffany Shedd, a lawyer for small businesses who lives on a farm in Eloy, Arizona, said she was talking with her husband one evening earlier this year about the importance of having someone representing them in Congress who will fight for rural communities. She said he challenged her to run.

"I said, 'I can't run. What's a person from a little town in Arizona doing running for Congress?" Shedd said. "And then I thought, 'Wow — that is exactly what we need.'"

She will be running in the Republican primary in the hopes of challenging Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran in November.

On the state level, 36 governor's races will be contested in 2018. The Center for American Women and Politics says 49 Democratic women, including two incumbents, and 28 Republican women have indicated they will run for those seats. There has never been more than nine women serving as governor at the same time.

Even if all the women who have reached out to groups such as EMILY's List do not end up running next year, they are expected to play key roles in supporting those who do.

"This is the next decade of candidates," Schriock said.


Associated Press photographer Matthew Otero in Dallas contributed to this report.


Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter at—Christina

Justin Casterline, NAU Sports Information 

Northern Arizona's Luis Grijalva runs at the NCAA Championship meet in Louisville.

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Coconino Sheriff's Office: Heating system failure possible cause of death for El Mirage family

A significant failure in the heating system of the Parks cabin where an El Mirage family was found dead on Monday was consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning, according to a heating and cooling contractor employed by the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.

Ponderosa Fire units located the four deceased individuals at 1:43 p.m. on Monday after a sheriff’s deputy conducted a welfare check after a friend of the family was unable to reach them for several days.

They are identified as Anthony and Meaghan Capitano, both 32, Lincoln Capitano, 4, and Kingsley Capitano, 3, all of El Mirage.

El Mirage is located about 25 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The heating system was the only gas appliance in the home and provided additional evidence that carbon monoxide gas had filled the cabin, according to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office is investigating the incident as a possible carbon monoxide poisoning; however, the cause of death has yet to be determined by the Coconino County Medical Examiner.

The sheriff’s office would like to recommend that people install not only smoke detectors, but also carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

These need to be tested and inspected at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals.

The heating/cooling industry generally recommends that heaters are inspected yearly.

If you have questions regarding your heating/cooling system, you are urged to contact a certified heating/cooling expert to check your system. If you use wood stoves, be sure these also are annually serviced and cleaned.

Trump boasts of bigger 'nuclear button' than North Korea's

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump boasted Tuesday that he has a bigger and more powerful "nuclear button" than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The president's Tuesday evening tweet came in response to Kim's New Year's address, in which he repeated fiery nuclear threats against the United States. He said he has a "nuclear button" on his office desk and warned that "the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike."

Trump mocked that assertion, writing, "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

Earlier Tuesday, Trump sounded open to the possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue after Kim made a rare overture toward South Korea in a New Year's address. But Trump's ambassador to the United Nations insisted talks would not be meaningful unless the North was getting rid of its nuclear weapons.

In a morning tweet, Trump said the U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and other pressure were beginning to have a "big impact" on North Korea. He referred to the recent, dramatic escape of at least two North Korean soldiers across the heavily militarized border into South Korea. He also alluded to Kim's comments Monday that he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by South Korea next month.

"Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!" Trump said, using his derisive moniker for the young North Korean leader.

In response to Kim's overture, South Korea on Tuesday offered high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the shared border village of Panmunjom to discuss Olympic cooperation and how to improve overall ties.

North Korea did not immediately react to the South's proposal. If there are talks, they would be the first formal dialogue between the Koreas since December 2015. Relations have plunged as the North has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile development that now poses a direct threat to America, South Korea's crucial ally.

The U.S. administration, however, voiced suspicions that Kim was seeking to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang could view a closer relationship with Seoul has a way for reducing its growing international isolation and relief from sanctions that are starting to bite the North's meager economy.

"We won't take any of the talks seriously if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea," U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters at the United Nations. "We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don't think we need a Band-Aid, and we don't think we need to smile and take a picture."

While Trump ratcheted up the tension Tuesday night, he doesn't actually have a physical nuclear button.

The process for launching a nuclear strike is secret and complex, and involves the use of a nuclear "football," which is carried by a rotating group of military officers everywhere the president goes and is equipped with communication tools and a book with prepared war plans.

If the president were to order a strike, he would identify himself to military officials at the Pentagon with codes unique to him. Those codes are recorded on a card known as the "biscuit" that is carried by the president at all times. He would then transmit the launch order to the Pentagon and Strategic Command.

North Korea has been punished with unprecedented sanctions at the U.N. over its weapons programs, and Haley warned Tuesday of more measures if the North conducts another missile test.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert did not express opposition Tuesday to South Korea holding talks with North Korea, but voiced deep skepticism about Kim's intentions, saying he may be "trying to drive a wedge of some sort" between the U.S. and its ally, which hosts 28,000 American forces.

South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in has supported Trump's pressure campaign against North Korea, but he's less confrontational than the U.S. president and favors dialogue to ease the North's nuclear threats. Moon has long said he sees the Pyeongchang Olympics as a chance to improve inter-Korean ties.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. would continue to put "maximum pressure" on North Korea to give up its nukes. She added that South Korea shares that goal.


Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.