Earliest mention of monsoon in Arizona

The Arizona monsoon probably got its name back in the late 40s. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

What’s in a name?

When I first started working at Channel 3 in 1984, we would get calls all summer long from people complaining that we were calling the summer thunderstorm season, “the monsoon.”

In retrospect, it’s very interesting we were still getting that pushback considering the term “monsoon” was first applied to the southwest summer pattern in 1949. It was in an article by Ronald Ives which he called it the “Sonoran Monsoon.” I kind of like that. I have a copy of the publication and here it is in print.

And we know today that, yes, indeed Arizona is part of the North American monsoon, which is one of eight monsoons identified around the globe. And I suppose Ronald Ives is the father of the Arizona Monsoon.

Anything new takes some time to digest so it’s of no surprise that in the 1950s, newspaper articles of the day reflect the confusion. Check out this article from the Arizona Republic in July of 1955.

It’s July so that’s the start of the monsoon, according to the state climatologist at the time, Paul Kanghieser. And the headline dubs the month “hapless.” How I miss newspapers.

Then there’s this one, a couple of years later, when Kanghieser, who would later with Robert Ingram, develop the what is now called the “legacy” method of tracking when the monsoon arrives (three days, 55 dew points), further explains why the Arizona monsoon is a “real” monsoon.

My favorite article found from the same time period, however, is a letter to the editor at the Tucson Star complaining about the use of the word monsoon. Then the editor explains, tongue-in-cheek, why he thinks it's called that.

“It’s our belief that Tucson’s use of the term 'monsoon' dates back to the cynical observation of a printer, here from a much damper clime. As he watched a very small summer shower come and go, he commented sardonically, 'Well, now we’ve had our monsoon season, get set for a long dry spell.'”

Now that’s funny. By the way, by the legacy definition of the monsoon, it arrived in Phoenix on July 8 in 2018, which is about an average arrival date.

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