What you need to know about the Monsoon 2023
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Arizona’s Family is airing a half-hour special that informs you on everything you need to know about this summer storm season as well as what you need to keep you and your family safe. The Monsoon officially begins on June 15th and runs until September 30th. The definition of the season by date began in June 2008. The goal of the National Weather Service was to define the season much like the hurricane season. Before then, the start of the season was declared after three consecutive days with a dew point of 55 degrees or higher.
That meant there was enough moisture in the atmosphere as well as daytime heating to fuel monsoon storms.
What exactly is the North American Monsoon?
Believe it or not, it’s the most regularly occurring weather pattern in the world-right behind the 4 seasons. The word “Monsoon,” plain and simple, means a seasonal wind shift. Our normal weather pattern here in our desert climate is a west-to-east dry airflow, also known as the “Westerlies.” But in our summer months, as our temperatures soar and the landmass heats up, high pressure sets up or “shifts” near the 4 corners region. The clockwise circulation around that high imports moisture up from the south. Tapping humidity from the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of California and even moisture from the Pacific Ocean. This provides plenty of fuel for our towering thunderstorms.
[RELATED: Earliest mention of the Monsoon]
We all know Arizona gets a lot of lightning during the monsoon. Most of that lightning is negatively charged. It’s dangerous. And it’s abundant. But 5% of the time, a storm will produce positive lightning. This positively charged lightning typically comes from the tops of storms and is at least 10 times as powerful as most of the lightning we see. This positive lightning also can strike 10 miles or more away from a storm. That’s why some folks call it the most dangerous lightning.
Large dust storms are known as Haboobs. They form when strong winds flow down and outward from large thunderstorms. This outflow can pick up a ton of dust and sand and cover a large area within minutes. Some of these storms can reach as high as 10,000 feet and have winds up to 80 mph. What makes these storms so dangerous is they can create near-zero visibility. This can make driving nearly impossible, and it can cause mechanical issues for planes and halt flights at local airports.
All thunderstorms produce downbursts during their life cycle. The average monsoon thunderstorm lasts about 30 minutes. But in many cases, a high-powered, narrow column of air will plunge to the ground bringing winds of over 100 miles an hour. Microbursts, also called “rain bombs,” are rarely caught by radar in real time because they occur so quickly and impact a relatively small area. So, there’s almost never a warning before microburst strikes. They are particularly strong during the monsoon.
Burn Scars and the dangers they pose
2022 was a very “wet” monsoon. In fact, it tied for the 7th wettest summer storm season on record. Over two inches fell in Phoenix from July through September. While it was a wet one here in the Valley, northern Arizona got in on the rain action as well. Over ten and a half inches fell in Flagstaff. Although it helped the dry forests, the heavy rains brought massive flooding along several burn scars left behind from recent wildfires. Click here for a more in-depth data on these burn scars.
Dangerous Water Rescues
Because of the burn scares from the wildfires, last year’s monsoon season was one of the busiest for water rescues. Floodwaters can be deceiving, and we saw firsthand last September the dangers both families and first responders can face. DPS says water rescues are the most dangerous type of rescue they do. The monsoon storms are more powerful than many think, so agencies are urging the community not to drive into flooded waters.
I-17 Drainage System
The new $35M project will open this summer and help fix the flooding problem along I-17 from Peoria to Greenway. ADOT built a new gravity-controlled system where the old pump stations are no longer needed. This allows the water to move naturally toward basins built near the underpass. It took a lot of manpower to build these basins by moving a ton of dirt and digging deep holes to help with the flooding in that area.
Kids and the Monsoon
The power of Mother Nature is on full display during monsoon season. One loud clap of thunder can make anyone jump. It’s no surprise kids are often fearful of monsoon storms that rumble through Arizona.
Parents have a tough job of navigating how to keep kids safe while also teaching them that storms don’t have to be scary. Empowering your kids with knowledge about monsoon storms can help. Remind them that when thunder roars, go indoors. It’s a good idea to wait about 30 minutes after the sound of thunder to go back outside. Playing in puddles after a storm passes is fine, but bigger areas of floodwaters are often filled with dangerous bacteria and should be avoided.
For older kids who have cell phones, they can stay in the know about storms with our First Alert weather app. The app has live radar, forecast conditions and real-time lightning alerts as storms move through.
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