November 25, 2014

Monsoon Season

I have always liked weather. Some of my fondest memories of my kids growing up was sitting out on the back porch, listening and watching a New England thunderstorm come rolling in on one of those hot, humid days. It was a senses explosion, the sounds echoing through the valley, the sight of the sheets of rain approaching, the feel of the air changing as the rain brought cooler air, the smells of rain on the grass. We would sit and giggle and ooh and ahh until the flash of lightning was just a bit too close and we scurried into the house.

Here in the high desert of New Mexico, we have what is referred to as the “monsoon season”. It is a somewhat strange designation as growing up, we think of monsoons as this continuous rain cycle. Here in the desert, it is a 2 month (or so) period of increased likelihood of rain. When you only get 7-9 inches of rain per year, any increased likelihood is welcome!

I like to read the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) projections for weather patterns. They tend to be very accurate and this brings with it a sense of anticipation. It told us that this summer was going to be warmer in the southwest and we did get some record breaking heat. It then told us that our monsoon season would be a good one and I think by definition, good is good for us. The season starts right around the 2nd of July and lasts thru most of August. Traditionally we get maybe 80% or our rain for the year totals in this two month period. What we really get is spectacular thunderstorms.

There is some sameness to the way the thunderstorms come. The days get more humid (from a normal 10% humidity in June to 30-40% in July) while cooling just a bit. The sky is almost always cloudless early in the morning but by 10 am, they start to appear. By 2 pm or so, they thicken and some take on that dark, full of rain color and they get thicker and thicker. Because we are big sky country, many times you can see multiple storms at once. Also very evident is the virga, rain that falls from the clouds but does not reach the ground. These silky sheets can be seen everywhere.

When the rain actually starts, it begins as big drop, which leave half dollar size impressions on the roads and sidewalks. This, along with a huge increase of wind , signals that armageddon is about to start. Usually when it rains here, it pours. It can last 10 minutes, 30 minutes  maybe an hour. Roads flood, arroyos fill and many times people dance in the streets. Only occasionally do we get a soaking rain that lasts for more than an hour but again, every drop is welcome.

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This picture is by a friend, Jim Rodgers, who won a ribbon for it in the recent Photograph of the Year contest held by our camera club. It is titled “Oh, What a Night!”  To me it just represents the whole thunderstorm experience, from the multiple lightning strike to the virga in the desert. What a picture!

So, what is NOAA saying about this fall? Cooler (yes it has been), wetter (yes it has been) leading into a somewhat drier winter (this we shall see!)