July is the time of desert miracles. From Southern California to Western Texas, the wet season arrives and the desert blooms.
The afternoon thunderstorms drench the soil and thirsty plants blossom.
When the monsoon arrives, the desert blooms. Source: USDA Forest Service
The short desert monsoon season is usually spectacular. The heat builds and the giant clouds begin to swell. Sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, the skies begin to rumble. Lightning flashes, winds mount and then sheets of rain blast the parched ground. When dawn arrives, plants that looked like bundles of sticks the day before, glow with flowers.
As the summer heat mounts, thunderclouds build in the desert skies. Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Even in an average year, the storms are impressive. This year, however, they are ridiculous. My hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico, just had the heaviest rain in its recorded history—more than two inches in 24 hours with 70 mile per hour gusts of wind. Flood waters ripped through Las Vegas, causing even the most dedicated gamblers to pause. The weather service is issuing flash flood warnings from Eastern California to Texas. The Arizona/California border has had only a tiny amount of rain but it has been almost 800% more rainfall than normal.
This is a monsoon with a bad attitude!
The monsoon season usually lasts through September. Typically, in El Niño years like this, it is not unusual for the remnants of a Pacific hurricane to get sucked inland. Indeed, as late as 1997, Hurricane Nora was still a tropical storm when it rumbled through the deserts of Arizona and Hurricane Ismael dropped more than 8 inches of rain in New Mexico.
Sometimes the Southwestern Desert Monsoon sucks Pacific Hurricanes inland. Source Weather Prediction Center, 1995
After years of drought, the heavy monsoon is welcome. It is not ending the Western drought, but the rain is beautiful, even if it has an attitude!