Memories and lessons learned

The end of the monsoons…

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:


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