When we think of monsoons, we tend to think of places like India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. We envision people wading through water up to their waists while they go along with their daily business. But the southwest region of the United States also has a monsoon season, and it started with a vengeance a couple of weeks ago.
Monsoon season occurs when the land gets warmer than the atmospheric winds carried by nearby oceans. Wikipedia describes monsoons as “seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea.” Yeah, I don’t really understand that either, but you can go to the article for a more detailed explanation.
Northern Arizona only averages 10 to 11 inches of rain per year. The vast majority of that rainfall occurs during monsoon season. We first found out about the southwestern monsoon during our big trip out west in 2006. We would go from clear skies every morning to severe thunderstorms every afternoon. This weather pattern is typical of the monsoons. We learned to hike first thing in the morning and to be out of canyons and off ridges by 2 p.m.
From where we are staying here at Pipe Spring we can see 40 miles in every direction. We are really enjoying watching monsoon season from this vantage point. Every day starts off clear and hot. Then, in the afternoon, we watch the clouds build up until the thunder and lightning start. Then we can see the sheets of rain falling around us – and occasionally on us.
For the most part everyone expects these storms in the afternoons and goes about their business. Visitation drops off to nothing at the monument in the afternoon. Being a newcomer, I keep thinking I can get things done outside in the afternoon. “Maybe we won’t have storms today,” I think. But monsoon season is very predictable. The storms happen every single afternoon. We might not always get rain, but we always get lightning and thunder. You can watch a cool video on the monsoon coming at Pipe Spring here on Facebook.
Zion National Park, just north of us, got some exceptionally heavy rain on July 11. They had rockslides that closed the roads and many of the trails. The Narrows had flash flooding and many of the trails will be closed for the foreseeable future. We had heavier visitation for several days as people revised their vacation plans. But the roads are open again and people resumed their regularly scheduled vacations.
Flooding can be a problem during monsoon season. Even though we are not concerned about being washed away – we are on top of a hill – there were rivers of rain washing away sand and gravel all around us during a heavy storm last week. Plenty of groundskeeping to do after that!
Usually the storms dissipate when the sun goes down. But sometimes we can watch the show after dark. Lightning strikes are especially impressive when the moon and stars are shining right over you!