What Is a Monsoon in Arizona? 11 Things (2023) You Should Know

When the summer arrives, it brings monsoons in Arizona.

If you’ve never experienced a monsoon, these storms are amplified thunderstorms when a region gets much of its rain for the entire year.

Here’s what you should know about weathering these storms and how to protect your property. 

1. What is a monsoon in Arizona?

Monsoon refers to a seasonal time of year when thunderstorms are more likely to occur.

That said, a monsoon itself isn’t a thunderstorm, but the season can help build thunderstorms that are short-lived and intense.

Monsoon thunderstorms often cause flash flooding in areas of steep terrain, low-lying roads, and normally dry washes.

Typical features of monsoons include:

  1. Lightning
  2. Hail
  3. Dust storms
  4. Strong winds

In central and northern Arizona, monsoon thunderstorms account for roughly half of the annual precipitation.

In southern Arizona, these thunderstorms are as much as two-thirds to three-fourths of the annual precipitation.

2. What causes a monsoon in Arizona?

Monsoons are a well-defined meteorological event that occurs during the summer months.

In the winter, the primary wind flow is from the west to the northwest.

For Arizona, this means that winds are flowing from California to Nevada.

When the summer hits, the winds shift to a southerly or southeasterly direction.

Moisture also streams northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

This shift produces a radical change in moisture conditions across the state.

As temperatures rise throughout the day, the conditions for monsoons are present.

The wind shift between seasons is the result of two meteorological changes.

The first is the movement northward from winter to summer of the huge upper-air subtropical high-pressure cells (specifically the so-called Bermuda High).

The second is the intense heating of the desert which creates rising air and surface low pressure (called a thermal low) in the Mohave.

These two features combine to create a strong southerly flow over the state which pushes in moisture-rich air from the Gulf of Mexico.

3. When are monsoons in Arizona?

Arizona’s monsoon season is from June through September.

This season brings higher humidity that can lead to thunderstorms, heavy rain, lightning, hail, high winds, flash flooding, dust storms, and extreme heat.

4. How should you use the word monsoon?

The term “monsoons” should be used in the same manner as “summer.”

If you want to refer to the meteorological event, then you should use the proper “monsoon thunderstorms” rather than “monsoons.”

5. Are monsoons the same as hurricanes or cyclones?

No, although monsoons are often referred to as hurricanes or cyclones, this is incorrect.

Both hurricanes and cyclones are storms that typically form over oceans.

Unlike these large rainstorms, monsoons refer to a seasonal wind shift over a region that can bring on a heavy rain or dry spell.

As noted above, it isn’t a storm.

Rather, it’s a pattern of rains and winds that can span large geographical areas.

Having said this, monsoons can lead to dangerous flooding.

6. What should you do before a monsoon in Arizona?

Here are some safety precautions that you can take during monsoon season in Arizona.

bulletBe aware of the forecast for the day and stay updated on changing weather conditions

Monsoons can develop quickly and move rapidly, which won’t leave you a lot of time to prepare if you aren’t already aware of the weather.

bulletMaintain your plants and trees, so they aren’t at risk of falling onto your house or car during a monsoon and causing damage

Always loosely double-stake small and newly planted trees.

bulletCheck the moisture content of your soil before storms to ensure they aren’t oversaturated

If they are, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t running any automatic sprinkler systems.

Oversaturated soil can exacerbate the risk of runoff and flooding.

bulletInspect windows and doors and do any necessary repairs to prevent water and dirt from entering your home

bulletExamine your roof regularly to check for loose tiles and shingles

bulletInstall and clean out rain gutters as this will prevent pooling and flooding around the perimeter of your foundation

bulletAssess your home’s drainage patterns so you can attend to issues before a monsoon storm arrives

bulletClean out the garage so you have room to park cars, bicycles, or patio furniture when a storm is coming

bulletSecure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage

bulletKeep extra light and power handy as power outages are common (ex: batteries, flashlights, a battery-operated radio, TV on hand, etc.)

bulletUpdate your electrical panel so you can easily identify the circuit breakers for each room or area of your house while only using a flashlight

bulletCreate an emergency preparedness plan and kit

bulletMove your patio furniture or yard equipment that could go flying into a neighbor’s yard or window 

7. What should you do during a monsoon in Arizona?

During a monsoon thunderstorm, there are several risks to your physical well-being that come from lightning and wind.

Lighting will often strike outside of the area of heavy rain.

It can occur as far as 10 miles away from rainfall, and it doesn’t need to be raining where you are for you to be struck by lightning.

If you hear thunder, then know you’re close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning.

Here are some ways you can stay safe when thunder and lightning accompany a monsoon thunderstorm.

bulletStay off your phone – even a cordless phone – as this can shock you when lightning strikes nearby (use cell phones only when necessary)

bulletAvoid contact with plumbing as these fixtures conduct electricity (you shouldn’t wash your hands, take a shower, wash dishes, or do laundry)

bulletStay away from windows

bulletSeek shelter during monsoons

    1. If you’re caught outdoors, find a low spot away from trees, fences, pools, etc.
    2. Avoid high ground, water, trees, and metal objects

In Arizona, thunderstorm wind gusts typically exceed 40 mph.

The strongest straight-line gusts exceed 100 mph.

This strength of the wind can generate damage similar to a tornado.

bulletSecure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage (ex: garbage cans, umbrellas, patio furniture, and other unsecured items around your yard)

bulletStay away from windows

bulletStay away from trees – these are a top killer in severe thunderstorms and monsoon thunderstorms

bulletNever touch a downed power line even if it appears dead (you should always assume that a power line is live and call for help instead of attempting to deal with it yourself)

8. How do monsoons impact dust storms?

Dust storms typically appear well ahead of thunderstorms in Arizona.

You should monitor the weather forecast to see if a dust storm is predicted.

Keep in mind that a dust storm can also move rapidly and reduce visibility almost instantly.

You want to avoid going out in a dust storm if at all possible.

If you do find yourself caught in one and you’re driving, pull off the road immediately.

Put the vehicle in park and take your foot off the brake.

You should also turn off your headlights and taillights as other motorists may try to follow your taillights in an attempt to get through the dust storm, which could cause them to strike your vehicle.

You should stay where you are and remain in your vehicle until the storm passes.

Do not go out into the storm if you can avoid it.

9. What should you do after a monsoon in Arizona?

Monsoon storms don’t last long, but they often leave a lot of damage in their wake.

Here’s what you should do after the storm has passed, and you’re left picking up the pieces.

bulletChange your air filters because the storm will have brought a lot of fine particle dust

Typically, an air filter should be changed about every 90 days, but during monsoon season, every 2 to 3 weeks is recommended.

bulletClean your pool to get rid of dust, pollen, and debris

bulletWash your car because dust particles sitting on your car can cause fine scratches and damage which will be costly to fix in the long run

bulletReport any flooded neighborhoods or city streets so that city officials can tend to them as soon as possible

The same goes for any fallen trees, large debris, or downed power lines.

Do not attempt to move or touch any downed power lines — stay at least 100 feet away and call authorities for your own safety.

bulletNever drive through any standing water because it’s nearly impossible to accurately assess the rate and power at which the water is moving

This means you can easily be swept away.

Half of all flood fatalities are vehicle-related.

bulletDon’t play in flood waters because this can cause illness or injury

bulletRemove standing water around your home because it’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes and germs

Consider using sandbags to divert water away from your doorways and help protect your home from flooding during a monsoon storm.

Check with fire stations throughout the Phoenix valley for free sandbags.

bulletTour your property to assess for any noticeable damage or concerns

bulletContact your insurance company to open claims on damage

bulletHire a reputable, licensed contractor to help repair the damage to your home

10. What are some monsoon season statistics you should know?

Here are some facts and stats you should know about the monsoon season.

bulletThe average monsoon storm wind speeds are around 40 to 100 mph

bulletWind gusts can often exceed 100 mph during a monsoon storm

bulletThe average rainfall during a monsoon storm is 2.71 inches

bulletOver half of Arizona receives its yearly rainfall during the monsoon season

bullet5 million lightning strikes occur during monsoon seasons

bulletArizona has 15 percent of all lighting strikes in the U.S. and most occur during monsoon season

bulletInsurance claims from monsoon damage can total as much as $250 million a year

bulletIn 2010, one storm caused over $3 billion in damage due to hail

bulletThe state of Arizona has $500 million (5 percent of the annual budget) in damages every year due to monsoons

bulletMonsoon storms regularly cause flight delays or diversions from one of the busiest airports in the country (Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport); these storms affect 50 flights every hour

11. Do monsoons in Arizona cause flash floods?

 Yes, it’s very common for monsoon rains to cause a flash flooding threat.

For this reason, it’s important to know about flash flood safety as well.

Here are tips you should use if flash flooding impacts your area.

bulletAvoid driving if a flash flood warning has been issued

It’s easy to lose control of a vehicle in as little as 6 inches of water.

In 2 feet of water, most vehicles will begin to float.

Most drivers will have a difficult time discerning the depth or force of flowing water.

This issue is especially pronounced at night.

Initially, you may think water is a shallow stream, but that may not be the case at all.

If you see standing water at all, do not drive through it.

This is the best way to prevent being trapped or swept away.

bulletTake additional time for a safer route

Don’t drive through a monsoon’s path if there’s an alternative path.

Taking extra time can keep you safe, which makes it worth it.

You can also wait it out.

Arizona’s monsoons are typically fast-moving and temporary.

bulletUse common sense when driving through flooded areas

Arizona created a law for this called the “Stupid Motorist Law” in 1995.

This law bans drivers from driving around barricades that are intended to prevent them from driving through a flooded area.

If you become trapped after circumventing a barricade, then you may be responsible for paying the cost of rescue from police and fire emergency personnel.

bulletBeware of seemingly distant thunderstorms, especially over the mountains

Flash flooding can occur from several miles away.

The runoff from these thunderstorms will flow into the valley and deserts, which means you can still be impacted even if the storm appears far away.

bulletBe cautious when hiking or biking in a monsoon thunderstorm

These storms bring the danger of both flash flooding and lightning.

If you hike during the monsoon, you should get out earlier in the day, be aware of your escape routes, follow ranger instructions, and be prepared to move to higher ground quickly.

Final Thoughts

A monsoon in Arizona is like any other natural disaster.

You can’t avoid it, but you can prepare for it.

These storms begin in June and continue through September.

They can bring much-needed rain to the desert, but they’re worth preparing for so your home doesn’t get damaged.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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