Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I Look Forward to the Southwestern Monsoon

This was an article I originally published on Associated Content in June 2008.  I have cleaned up the article a little bit.

This is particularly relevant because we're getting rare August rains today.

Every summer around the end of June into July, August and September comes what is termed "monsoonal moisture" into the southwest. While some people in other parts of the world would hardly compare the heavy rains of their monsoons to the occasional downpours in the desert, the importance of these weather phenomena are almost equal. 

Rain in the summer is very important to the region and a some of these deserts. While many people in the region complain about the high humidity these airflows bring in, I look forward to them even if they're uncomfortable.

Monsoonal rains in the southwest begin with a high pressure system that stations itself over the Four Corners area of the United States. Air will rotate around this high and bring in moisture from the Gulf of California and sometimes the Pacific Ocean. Under the right conditions, it can result in thunderstorms that bring rain, mostly to the mountains the the deserts. But, it can also bring rain to areas closer to the coast. 
The thunderheads don't climb as high as they do in some parts of the world, so they rarely have large, damaging hail or winds. But, they can have some decent downpours. The permanent animal and plant life in these areas depend on the summer rains to provide them with water and relief from the heat during the hot summer months.
The clouds also help turn down the heat in the desert. Often, the temperature spikes in the middle of the day and within a few hours, storms start to form and the temperature falls. If all goes well, there's a brief shower, but usually not enough to worry about. Sometimes, they're heavy, sometimes they're not. 
Not only are the rains that come from the clouds that form important, I love the beauty of these thunderheads as they form over the mountain and desert landscape. I often make the trip out to where these storms are to get some photos. The desert with active thunderheads or rain clouds is at its most beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset. But, even in the mid-afternoon, when they are just beginning to form, they are interesting subjects.


Next week:  Was that poison oak?  Identifying and dealing with poison oak, a common poisonous plant in the San Diego area.

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