When I first moved to Arizona, it was mid-August. Right in the middle of monsoon season. Everyone kept telling me about the monsoons in Tucson: how much it rains, how much flooding there will be, how the lightning storms are beautiful but dangerous, etc. So I was kind of excited when the local weatherperson announced it was going to rain. My first Tucson monsoon!! How exciting! Well, you can imagine my disappointment when it was a light sprinkle that day… 😦
BUT the next time it rained, it did live up to the hype. The rains were coming down hard, there was lightning, and a lot of flooding. My parents came to visit me that first semester toward the end of monsoon season and as they were walking around campus (I was stuck in class) they got caught in a sudden storm. To this day it’s one of their favorite stories to laugh about because they didn’t have an umbrella with them, they were lost, and my dad kept insisting my mom put a plastic grocery bag over her hair so her hair didn’t get wet!
So what exactly is a monsoon and how long does it last? According to UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences website, “monsoon” comes from the Arabic word mausim which means “a season.” 32% of the normal yearly rainfall comes during monsoon season, which typically starts in July following the very dry previous months. The monsoon season can produce anywhere from 0.35 inches of rain to 9.38 inches. The average is 2.45 inches, according to the college’s website.
So what’s the big deal? Well, one of the things that I learned while writing my story on the wildfires in Arizona is that when you have super dry months in May and June, especially when the fires have killed off all the grass and brush on the bottom on the forest floor, followed by heavy monsoon rains, it creates mudslides. The influence of weather on the wildfire season is huge, as was illustrated in this great article in Science Daily, Plan Fires Timed to La Niña and El Niño Years. Here’s some more information about El Niño and La Niña from the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And of course, there’s no need to emphasize how important rains are in a desert environment.
So how sad was I this morning when I heard on the local news that Friday is officially the last day of monsoon season? I’m going to miss this kind of beauty:
And here’s a KOLD report by Chuck George in 2006 going over a little bit of history with Tucson monsoon flooding and how the city has adapted to grow around former flood plains:
Remember Al Gore? Clinton’s VP? Lost to Little Bush in the 2000 Presidential election? Well, sort of. But he did star in the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, which he won an Oscar for.
Well, on September 14, he started a new project – 24 Hours of Reality. The project consisted of 24 presenters, in a 24 hour period, over 24 time zones. The presentations were made by citizen activists trained by Gore about extreme weather events. You can watch the presenters on the website, but here’s a highlight video of the session from Mexico City
Here is a quick snapshot of some of the main points covered by the Climate Reality Project by Steve Scauzillo, a staff writer at Whittier Daily News, from his article “Gore presents reality about climate change in 24-hour webcast” (reprinted with permission):
* 90 million tons of greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere every 24 hours. And although carbon dioxide isn’t poisonous, it traps heat causing global temperatures to rise (like a greenhouse).
* Every national academy of sciences of every major country in the world agrees that climate change is reality and is caused primarily by man-made sources (such as combustion of fossil fuels).
* Higher temperatures bring about more severe droughts and more intense and frequent rainstorms and flooding. A one degree increase in air temperature increases the capacity of air to hold 7 percent more water vapor, which can increase a storm’s volume of precipitation. The weather patterns are getting scrambled.
* 20 million people affected by flooding in 2010; 5.5 million this week.
* 8.5 million people in China affected by floods this year.
* Colombia had five times the amount of average rainfall this year.
* Taiwan had 48 inches of rain in 48 hours.
* In the U.S. this year, record flooding occurred along the Mississippi River and in North Dakota. Hurricane Irene caused $12 billion in damages, including places that have never been hit by tropical storms before, such as Killington, Vt.
* Severe and extended droughts are occurring in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The largest lake in China, Poyang Lake, last May was dry.
* There’s a direct link between higher temperatures, extended droughts and fires. The wildfire season has increased by 78 days over the past three decades.
* 252 out of 254 counties in Texas have had fires this summer; 2,600 homes were lost.
* In July, downtown Phoenix was overcome by a massive dust storm.
* New Mexico is recovering from the largest fire in its history.
* In Australia last year, weeks of triple-digit heat and fires devastated large parts of the country.
* France’s Loire River, the largest in the country, is bone dry.
* This year, 200 U.S. cities broke or tied all-time records for high temperatures.
* All 50 states this past July broke or tied high temperature records.
What a beautiful desert I live in! These are pictures are I took during a hike in Sabino Canyon a while back with my good friend, Goli. I had my other friend’s really nice camera with me and I was testing out my nature photography skills. Not bad for an amateur, eh? I even ran across the roadrunner (last picture) on our hike! Which, I’m told by a friend of mine who grew up in Arizona, is a sign of good luck… No sign of the coyote that day, though 😉
Sunday morning, Kelsey, Diana, Lloyd (my blue 2000 Honda Civic) and I took a road trip down to the border in Lukeville, AZ. I’m working on a story for Border Beat about the environmental impact of the border fence; Kelsey came along to kindly take pictures for me; and Diana, well she just loves a good road trip 😉
We took off around 9am, and headed south. We passed by some interesting sites on our way: Kitt Peak Observatory, the Tohono O’odam Reservation, Ryan Airfield, and quite a few Border Patrol checkpoints.
Two and a half hours worth of intense heat and sun later, we reached the entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. What a cool national park! The desert here is a bit different than in Tucson. More than just saguaros, the Sonoran desert offers more variety of flora, making the landscape just a bit greener.
One plant in particular that distinguishes the Sonoran desert and that the national park was charged with the responsibility of protecting is the organ pipe cactus. Characterized by its man
y arms, the organ pipe cactus is unique to this region. According to the park’s official website, it is home to 26 species of cactus.
The park is also home to various animals such as: mountain lions, elf owls, javelinas, bats, coyotes, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, and yes, that animal I hate most in the world… sna…. snak…. I don’t even want to type it out! Other than that animal in particular, I was excited to possibly encounter as many of the others as possible. Before we explored the park, however, we first made our way down to the US-Mexico border…
As we drove up to the border, we pulled into the parking lot of a general store owned by Gringo Pass, Inc. As I sat with Lloyd (his battery had been acting up the past couple of days, so it was just a safer bet to turn him on and off as few times as possible to ensure we weren’t stranded in the desert at the border) Kelsey and Diana approached the Border Patrol agents to ask where exactly was the location of the fence where flood had damaged it on August 7.
Apparently, these agents were less than helpful. Initially they told the girls that they hadn’t heard anything about any damage, then they tried to tell them that location was too dangerous for us to go, and at one point they told the girls they were not allowed to take any pictures of any of the agents. Well, I didn’t think of this until another friend pointed it out to me, but that’s false: you absolutely CAN take pictures of law enforcement agents while they are out in public doing their job.
So Kelsey and I left Diana and Lloyd behind at the general store while we walked up to the fence – mind you, we stayed on the AMERICAN side of the fence the whole time – and started taking pictures. The wire meshing was designed to be small so that people couldn’t jump the fence easily but an unforeseen consequence (or maybe it was foreseen, but Homeland Security just didn’t care) is that garbage and debris can get caught up in the mesh after a rainstorm thereby causing the type of flooding that occurred on August 7.
The BP agent posted at the fence near where we were taking pictures drove up to us to see what we were doing. When we showed him our press badges and explained we were UA students writing a story, he drove back to his post, but then got out of his truck to stand next to us the whole time we were there! So, I tried talking to him, asking him questions, while Kelsey got some good pictures out of it. He was less than forthcoming with any answers, but at least it was distracting him from what she was doing.
Remember the part when I said we hadn’t crossed the border into Mexico? Well, we still had to go back through Customs and have our passports swiped. Oh well…
So now the 3 of us head back into Organ Pipe and intend to take one of the driving trails to scope out the scenery. And if Lloyd wasn’t an 11 year old Honda Civic that needed new tires, maybe we could’ve done that. We did get about a mile in though and that’s where we took the picture above with the huge organ pipe cactus. Pretty cool, no?
And that was our adventure. Just 3 girls from the UA J-school just trying to write up a little story about the environmental impact of a border fence. Uncomfortably sweaty, tired, and happy it is a 3 day weekend! More pictures from this trip to come…