Flagstaff saw a range of meteorological phenomena this year, from record-high temperatures and a 100-year rainfall event, to a tornado, to moisture associated with a tropical storm originating in the gulf of Mexico to ever-present drought conditions. The weather in 2018 was in many ways a testament to a changing climate that has increasingly extreme weather events at its center.
Here’s how the weather took shape in Flagstaff in 2018:
Though an El Nino pattern is set to define the 2018 portion of the winter, experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administarion's Climate Prediction Center and the National Weather Serivce recently pointed to the fact that that the nucleus of the nation's drought remains over the Four Corners region.
Rivers and streams that depend on snow-melt are much lower than previous years. Forecasters in northern Arizona noted that El Nino was promising, but that it may not develop in the same ways it has in the past.
"It'll mean more moisture, but not necessarily more snow," said Tony Merriman, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.
AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq — In an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday, President Donald Trump staunchly defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from neighboring Syria despite a drumbeat of criticism from military officials and allies who don't think the job fighting Islamic State militants there is over.
Trump, making his first presidential visit to troops in a troubled region, said it's because the U.S. military had all but eliminated IS-controlled territory in both Iraq and Syria that he decided to withdraw 2,000 forces from Syria. He said the decision to leave Syria showed America's renewed stature on the world stage and his quest to put "America first."
"We're no longer the suckers, folks," Trump told U.S. servicemen and women at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq, about 100 miles west of Baghdad. "We're respected again as a nation."
The decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria, however, stunned national security advisers and U.S. allies and prompted the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was not on the trip, and the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic extremist group. The militant group, also known as ISIS, has lost nearly all its territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.
Iraq declared IS defeated within its borders in December 2017, but Trump's trip was shrouded in secrecy, which has been standard practice for presidents flying into conflict areas.
Air Force One, lights out and window shutters drawn, flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad in darkness Wednesday evening. George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq as president and President Barack Obama made one.
During his three-plus hours on the ground, Trump did not meet with any Iraqi officials, but spoke on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. He stopped at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on his way back, for a second unannounced visit to troops and military leaders.
Trump's Iraq visit appeared to have inflamed sensitivities about the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The two major blocs in the Iraqi parliament both condemned the visit, likening it to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The airbase where Trump spoke is about 155 mile from Hajin, a Syrian town near the Iraqi border where Kurdish fighters are still battling IS extremists. Trump has said IS militants have been eradicated, but the latest estimate is that IS still holds about 60 square miles of territory in that region of Syria, although fighters also fled the area and are in hiding in other pockets of the country.
Mattis was supposed to continue leading the Pentagon until late February but Trump moved up his exit and announced that Patrick Shanahan, deputy defense secretary, would take the job on Jan. 1 and he was in "no rush" to nominate a new defense chief.
"Everybody and his uncle wants that position," Trump told reporters traveling with him in Iraq. "And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt, just so I won't be criticized."
Critics said the U.S. exit from Syria, the latest in Trump's increasingly isolationist-style foreign policy, would provide an opening for IS to regroup, give Iran a green light to expand its influence in the region and leave U.S.-backed Kurdish forces vulnerable to attacks from Turkey.
"I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds," said Trump, who wore an olive green bomber style jacket as he was welcomed by chants of "USA! USA!" and speakers blaring Lee Greenwood's song, "God Bless the USA."
"We'll be watching ISIS very closely," said Trump, who was joined by first lady Melania Trump.
Trump also said he had no plans to withdraw the 5,200 U.S. forces in Iraq. That's down from about 170,000 in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.
Trump spoke on the phone with the prime minister, but the White House said security concerns and the short notice of the trip prevented the president from meeting him.
The prime minister's office said "differences in points of view over the arrangements" prevented the two from meeting but they discussed security issues and Trump's order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the phone. Abdul-Mahdi's office also did not say whether he had accepted an invitation to the White House. But Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on the flight back that the Iraqi leader had agreed to come.
Trump said that after U.S. troops in Syria return home, Iraq could still be used to stage attacks on IS militants.
"We can use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria," he said. "If we see something happening with ISIS that we don't like, we can hit them so fast and so hard" that they "really won't know what the hell happened."
Trump said it's time to leave Syria because the U.S. should not be involved in nation-building, and that other wealthy nations should shoulder the cost of rebuilding Syria. He also said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to battle "any remnants of ISIS" in Syria, which shares a border with Turkey.
A proposition overwhelmingly passed by voters this past November has cities across the state, including Flagstaff, gearing up for potential litigation.
Proposition 126, which passed with 64 percent of the vote statewide and with 55 percent in Coconino County, amended the state constitution to prevent future taxes on services unless they were already in effect as of the end of 2017.
But now, city officials are concerned that, depending on the interpretation of the amendment’s language, it could take a big chunk out of local tax increases approved by voters this November.
On top of this, the amendment could prove “devastating” for cities’ abilities to raise the money for basic services, said Ken Strobeck, the executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
Three of Flagstaff’s transportation taxes have the potential to be affected by the proposition, including one to fund the city’s Lone Tree overpass project, according to city staff.
That tax is estimated to raise $4.6 million and goes into effect in about six months. As such, staff say clarification as to the amendment would be preferred sooner rather than later.
At the Dec. 11 council meeting, council approved a contract with an outside law firm to begin working on the issue of unclear language in the constitutional amendment on behalf of the city.
The same law firm is also being retained by several other Arizona cities, including Scottsdale and Mesa, to work on the same issue in a process that has the potential to end in litigation fighting to overturn the amendment.
The problems arise from the lack of definitions for several of the terms used in the amendment.
For example, the state has never had a definition of what constitutes a service, and despite banning future taxes on services, the amendment provides no definition.
Because of this, a report released by the non-partisan Grand Canyon Institute found that depending on how services are defined, the amendment could drastically reduce the revenues on Flagstaff’s new taxes by as much as 35 percent.
And that hasn’t changed since voters approved the amendments, said David Wells, the director of research at GCI.
But Strobeck said the consequences could be even more drastic because there is also no definition for the phrase “in effect.”
Many cities, including Flagstaff, rarely implement taxes in perpetuity. Rather, they will implement a tax for a number of years and then ask voters to renew it. What is unclear, then, is if the renewals of these taxes will count as new taxes under the amendment and thus be unable to apply a tax to services, Strobeck said.
The city has never considered sales taxes to be a tax on services, according to city staff, but others may argue differently.
If the language is interpreted in this way, Strobeck said the amendment has the potential to drastically reduce the current revenues brought in.
“Transaction privilege taxes, or essentially sales tax, is often how cities get the majority of their revenue,” Strobeck said. “If Prop 126 takes a substantial bite out of that, it could be devastating.”
This would affect not only cities but funding for the state, counties and school districts across Arizona.
This could make the job of providing even basic serves like keeping streets paved, safe and sewage systems working far more difficult, Strobeck said.
Strobeck said he is always wary of trying to parse what voters might have been thinking, but he doubts many understood the potential implications of such a constitutional amendment.
“I think people just saw that it banned [one kind of tax] and said, 'I’m all for that,'” Strobeck said.
City spokesperson Jessica Drum said the city could not comment further on potential litigation but that “the city views all [sales] tax classifications as taxes that existed on Dec. 31, 2017, which are exempt from the constitutional amendment.”
Christmas may be over, but local businesses have been enjoying the 90-day moratorium on the trade war between the United States and China.
In particular, breweries have taken the opportunity to stock up on the necessary supplies while the tariffs are absent and prices are not as high.
Michael Marquess, the founder and CEO of Mother Road Brewing Company, said they have taken the opportunity to purchase $76,000 worth of kegs and are considering making another “sizable purchase again to get us through 2019.”
“Mother Road can’t take a 25 percent hit on kegs,” Marquess said. “I mean that’s huge; that’s real dollars.”
Wanderlust Brewing Company has also seen an increase in the price on kegs, owner Nathan Freidman said.
Freidman said they were lucky to have just ordered their annual shipment of kegs before the tariffs were announced, but since then, “pretty much all of our vendors have raised prices on those by 10 to 15 percent.”
They mostly buy kegs from foreign companies, but Freidman said even if they did buy domestic kegs, tariffs on importing raw materials means the cost of products made within the U.S. has also increased.
“I am the owner of a small business and even we have connections globally,” Freidman said.
Their kegs generally have a fairly long lifespan, Freidman said, but as kegs get lost and become damaged, they still have to replace some of them a few times a year.
Last year, Freidman said, Wanderlust increased production and expanded their brewing operation. That was before the tariffs had even been announced, but since they have expanded, the prices on the equipment they bought have all gone up.
If they had waited to expand this year, Freidman said, the tariffs probably wouldn’t have prevented them from expanding, but they would likely have had to delay their expansion.
Freidman said there are other factors that have hit them harder, specifically pointing at the increased minimum wage in Flagstaff as one example. He added that they generally raise their prices slightly every year and, although the tariffs haven’t influenced their decision this year, he could easily imagine a scenario in which that was the biggest factor.
Aluminum has also been touched by the tariffs but, unlike other local industries that have seen the price of aluminum nearly double, brewers have been less affected on this front, said Kelly Hanseth of Beaver Street Brewery and the Lumberyard.
This is because although aluminum has been affected by tariffs, one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of beverage cans in the U.S., Ball Corporation, was exempt from the tariffs on aluminum in August, Hanseth said.
Nonetheless, Marquess said, at Mother Road they are still expecting the price of aluminum to go up slightly next year because of the tariffs. But even if aluminum prices go up by just a cent, Marquess said that adds up.
“I think we’re going to be fine, but (for) a lot of the smaller brewers that don’t have the economies of scale that we do, or say, a Lumberyard does, it may be a little tougher for the smaller guys to handle some of those price impacts," Marquess said.
The uncertainty caused by the tariffs have also changed the way they do business. Normally, Marquess said they looked about 10 to 12 months out on contracts, but now, they are starting to look 48 months out.
“When the federal government starts acting squirrelly, that hurts small business, and that’s just the fact of the matter,” Marquess said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or a Republican, uncertainty doesn’t help small business at all.”