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:
- Dust storms
- 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.
It is primarily caused by the intense heating of the desert which creates rising air and surface low pressure (called a thermal low) in the Mohave.
This low pressure pulls in moist air from the Pacific and Gulf of California.
At the same time, Arizona’s subtropical ridge of upper atmosphere high pressure, which normally prevents the northward movement of air, shifts to the southern Rockies at the end of June.
This allows the moisture-rich air from the southern and western coasts to flow northward.
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.
Be 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.
Maintain 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.
Check 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.
Inspect windows and doors and do any necessary repairs to prevent water and dirt from entering your home
Examine your roof regularly to check for loose tiles and shingles
Install and clean out rain gutters as this will prevent pooling and flooding around the perimeter of your foundation
Assess your home’s drainage patterns so you can attend to issues before a monsoon storm arrives
Clean out the garage so you have room to park cars, bicycles, or patio furniture when a storm is coming
Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage
Keep extra light and power handy as power outages are common (ex: batteries, flashlights, a battery-operated radio, TV on hand, etc.)
Update your electrical panel so you can easily identify the circuit breakers for each room or area of your house while only using a flashlight
Create an emergency preparedness plan and kit
Move 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.
Stay off your phone – even a cordless phone – as this can shock you when lightning strikes nearby (use cell phones only when necessary)
Avoid contact with plumbing as these fixtures conduct electricity (you shouldn’t wash your hands, take a shower, wash dishes, or do laundry)
Stay away from windows
Seek shelter during monsoons
- If you’re caught outdoors, find a low spot away from trees, fences, pools, etc.
- 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.
Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage (ex: garbage cans, umbrellas, patio furniture, and other unsecured items around your yard)
Stay away from windows
Stay away from trees – these are a top killer in severe thunderstorms and monsoon thunderstorms
Never 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.
Change 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.
Clean your pool to get rid of dust, pollen, and debris
Wash 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
Report 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.
Never 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.
Don’t play in flood waters because this can cause illness or injury
Remove 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.
Tour your property to assess for any noticeable damage or concerns
Contact your insurance company to open claims on damage
Hire 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.
The average monsoon storm wind speeds are around 40 to 100 mph
Wind gusts can often exceed 100 mph during a monsoon storm
The average rainfall during a monsoon storm is 2.71 inches
Over half of Arizona receives its yearly rainfall during the monsoon season
5 million lightning strikes occur during monsoon seasons
Arizona has 15 percent of all lighting strikes in the U.S. and most occur during monsoon season
Insurance claims from monsoon damage can total as much as $250 million a year
In 2010, one storm caused over $3 billion in damage due to hail
The state of Arizona has $500 million (5 percent of the annual budget) in damages every year due to monsoons
Monsoon 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.
Avoid 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.
Take 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.
Use 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.
Beware 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.
Be 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.
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.
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