Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sonoran Desert Summer or "It's a Dry Heat(???)"

Before you read further - let me make one thing perfectly clear... I love living in Arizona...unequivocally, without a doubt, I love it...most of the time.

Have you ever opened an oven door and felt that blast of heat hit you square in the face? That's late June in Arizona. Now, imagine that same oven loaded with pans of hot water - that's July, August and most of September in Arizona. Whoever said it was a dry heat was not talking about summertime here. Okay, it's comparatively dry. (I did grow up in the Midwest where 90% humidity was the norm, but 90 degrees was a major heat wave!) Actually, when I talk to people from other places about our climate here, I usually mention that we only have two seasons in our year - which I somewhat affectionately refer to as summer and hell. I know, I know, we really have 4 seasons just like everyone else, but realistically our weather from October thru May is pretty much the equivalent of summer in most other places in the world...and the rest of the year - well, I think Dante vacationed in Arizona during the summer before writing his "Inferno."

Seriously, even though the temperatures can average over 110 degrees every day during the summer months here, and the humidity levels "soar" to over 50% (from our winter norms of single digit humidity), there is a plus side - at least for me! You might think it's the daily sunshine and the palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze (but believe it or not, palm trees are NOT native to Arizona, although we have tons of them!) and being able to spend time by the pool... all of the things our visitors love about vacationing here. What I really love about summer here is our "Summer Rainy Season" - which used to be called the Monsoon. (and which most Arizonans still refer to as the Monsoon!!!! Thankfully, it's not a felony... yet...)

A couple of years ago, they changed the name from Monsoon to Summer Rainy Season because people were incorrectly calling it the Monsoon Season...which is redundant because "Monsoon", loosely translated, means rainy season, so it was the equivalent of them saying "rainy season season"... and the powers that be decided that they just couldn't have that. The other thing that they changed was to define definite dates for the season. In the past, Monsoon began when our dewpoints hit 55 degrees or better for 3 days in a row and ended when they fell below 55 degrees for 3 days in a row. Guess it was too hard for them to keep track of, since when they changed the name, they decided that the season would just start on June 15th (not coincidentally, tomorrow!) and end on September 30th - regardless of where our dewpoints were. (For anyone who isn't familiar with the term "dewpoint" - it's the temperature at which an air mass reaches saturation, and at which condensation forms as cloud droplets, or dew. Simply, it's a saturation point -the higher the dewpoint, the more moisture in the air.)

So, what do I love about this season? Storms!!!!! Incredible, amazing storms. I've lived here long enough to remember the daily storm moving in from the northeast around 4pm each and every afternoon, cooling the desert heat into the 70's, wetting the parched land, putting some water in our normally dry washes and providing lightning shows that are just incredible! As the years go on, they're a little bit fewer and farther between and much less predictable now, at least here in the Valley of the Sun, but they are no less spectacular when they do make it past the edge of the heat island we've created through all of the concrete construction here.

Although they used to be a rare occurrence, the increasingly more common signature harbinger of a storm is often a haboob, or dust storm. While annoying to many because the dust just gets into everything, and dangerous to drivers because of the speed with which it can drop visibility to zero, a dust storm coming into the valley is still an amazing sight to behold. Because we are surrounded by miles and miles of open land, as the storm builds and the winds increase, dust is picked up at the front edge of the storm, creating a wall of dust that can be literally over 1500 feet high and 100 miles wide! (For video of an amazing storm from 2007 click here )

If I'm lucky, right behind the dust storm is the actual rainstorm, complete with spectacular lightning displays, downpours, and occasionally a microburst - although microbursts can be a pretty wild ride, since their effect can be quite similar to a miniature tornado, with almost as much destruction. But, since I probably would have made a great storm chaser had life given me different options, I still love observing the awesome power of nature in these storms. (Video)

Summer storms bring respite from the searing heat of the day, transforming the parched desert, filling the washes and dry river beds, temporarily allowing us to forget that water can sometimes be a scarce commodity here in the desert. And to some, like me, they are cathartic - washing away the heat and dust, drawing out the creosote scent that is synonymous with desert rain, and awe-some in their power as they strike, soothing in the stillness and clarity of the land and sky after they leave. To those of you who love storms, you understand what I those of you who don't, I can't begin to explain...but yes, summer in the Sonoran can be an amazing time of year.

I'd like to extend a huge "thank you!!!" to the following shops for allowing me to display their images here to illustrate my post. They are amazingly talented photographers, so please take a moment to visit their shops and see some of their other incredible photos!

Monsoon Tucson Sunset - PhotoGallery
Ominous Beauty - PerspectivePhotos
Rain - Efia
Storm Brewing over the Grand Canyon -LiveGreenGiveGreen
Arizona Red - BushnellPhotography
Monsoon - Donna Lewis
RAINBOW BLUE - desertphotography
DESERT SUNSET - desertphotography


Splendid Little Stars said...

These ARE amazing photographs! I do enjoy visiting Arizona. The second time I visited (in summer), I remember peering out the window somewhere near 5 AM, and the sun was blazing away like it was noon. It is amazing and wonderful to see lightening and storms from a long distance.
I was in Phoenix in April this year and it was delightful.

SCJ Jewelry Design said...

Incredible pictures! Thanks for sharing them with us. I'm orginally from the midwest and love a good thunder & lightning storm. I also love AZ, but I've never been there in the summer months. I like your Dante reference:)

Cozy said...

Wonderful post explaining our summer weather here in Arizona. Since moving here from Utah in 2006 I have found the summer storms make it bearable and almost enjoyable to be here June through September.

Savon Shoppe said...

These pictures and your educational post is phenomenal. What a wonderful thing to share. Feel like I was there during one of those awe inspiring storms. Great blog.

Anonymous said...

OK, so now I won't complain any more about our heat and humidity in Hotlanta! Beautiful post.

storybeader said...

great photos. Arizona sounds like southwestern Oklahoma: hot-hot and fabulous storms. We have a higher dewpoint, on average!

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