ROAR! The Monsoon with an Attitude!

January 29, 2016
Summer Monsoon Season
U.S. Department of Energy

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!


About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.