Monsoon Arizona 2011: The Making of the Monsoon


by Sybil Hoffman

Posted on June 8, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 3 at 5:28 PM

PHOENIX - At the height of the summer, the North American Monsoon impacts about 20 million people in the United States and Mexico, but it’s still one of the least understood weather patterns.

The Monsoon dates back to 1949 when the Arizona summer thunderstorm season was first described as a monsoon.

During the last decade, the amount of monsoon rain Phoenix has received has varied greatly. In 2008 the area saw six inches of rain but in both 2007 and 2009 the area got less than an inch.

One of the many dangers that come with the Monsoon is hail. Last summer was no exception, leaving behind millions of dollars in damages. Now nearly a year later, many homeowners are still getting repairs done.
Last year in the high country, two tornadoes touched down just a few miles from the National Weather Service Office in Flagstaff. 

Chief Meteorologist Brain Klimoski said it was a rare but perfect recipe of instability, wind shear and moisture that produced the most powerful tornadoes ever recorded in Arizona.
Dust storms are another major concern during the Monsoon season. Rising thousands of feet into the air and traveling up to 50 miles per hour, dust storms can be fierce. Last summer the Phoenix-metro had 14 dust storms warnings issued in the metro Phoenix area.
Each summer in Arizona, we get more than 500,000 cloud to ground lightning strikes. Some super storms have produced 50 thousand strikes around the valley in just one night. Each year though we average four lightning deaths.
Last year’s Schultz fire left many parts of Flagstaff in ruins. So much so the landscape has been forever changed.

Soil scientist Dan Neary with the U.S. Forest Service told us the fire “burned all the trees, vegetation and forest floor. It was a sponge and held water, it didn't flood before, then it made the soil water repellent.”
So what can Arizona expect this season? We will see thunderstorms around July 4th and the long range charts suggest we’ll have a warmer than average monsoon with about normal rainfall.