2021 Monsoons!

Flash floods, torrential rain, severe thunderstorms, high winds. Who would’ve thought that these words could describe one of our seasons of summer here in the Sonoran Desert Climate!

The Sonoran Desert can be described as having 5 different seasons; Spring, Dry Season of Summer, The Summer Monsoon Season, Fall, and Winter. Both our winter rain and summer monsoon seasons are typically characterized with rain, however, both seasons’ storms are different in nature. Our winter rainfall tends to have longer, softer storms. Whereas our summer monsoons are as described above, quick intense storms that can create strong winds, downpour, severe thunder and lightning, and flash floods.

Monsoon storm picture provided by PCMN Penny M
Monsoon storm picture provided by PCMN Penny M

Life in the desert depends on rain for survival. Many people love to watch the storms come in and as naturalists we have the opportunity to observe and enjoy the bursts of life and distinct phenophases. The winter rain brings in a prolific spring of super blooms of native wildflowers. Mid-June is when we began to anticipate our summer rainfall knowing that July is typically when storms come in full force. Many plants and animals, like the spadefoot toad, reserve their resources and wait to reproduce for when it is known that we will have a wet summer. These amphibians await for the rainfall and storm vibrations triggering their emergence for their breeding season, thus fulfilling an important part of their lifecycle.

Spadefoot Toad at the Sonora Desert Museum

One of my favorite things as a desert dweller is to recreate during monsoon season! It’s a time where we can see the desert thrive and become even more green again, swim in vernal pools in canyons, and visit waterfalls to listen to the force of water here in the desert. Some of my favorite places to visit include Tanque Verde Falls, Sabino Canyon, Romero Pools, and the Cataracts along Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway. Typically it is always stressed to think about water and safety while hiking in the summer. This is still true during monsoon season, but in a different way in comparison to our dry summer. Yes, stay hydrated! But also be aware of the place you’re hiking and what potential there is for flash floods. Some great safety tips include looking at not only the weather forecast, but as well as the radar, research the area, and if available, talk to a park ranger to better understand what to expect!

Lush Greenery at Catalina State Park after recent monsoon rains.
Waterfall within the wash at Tanque Verde Falls
Beautiful Waterfall at Tanque Verde Falls
Water flowing within the Riparian at Sabino Canyon

2020 was a summer of drought and wildfires. We continued to hope for rain as our mountainsides went up in fire and smoke. It was marked as the driest summer since 1895, having only 2.97 inches of rainfall. Seeing this year’s monsoon season was an extension of relief that 2021 has brought me all while observing record rainfall! As of July 25th we’ve experienced over 5.82 inches of rain here in Tucson. Almost twice as much as last year’s total. So far this year ranks as the 4th wettest July and 6th wettest calendar month on record!

https://www.weather.gov/psr/2020MonsoonReview

Resources:

https://www.weather.gov/psr/2020MonsoonReview

https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_patternslife.php

https://climas.arizona.edu/sw-climate/monsoon

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