The official start date of the Arizona Monsoon season is June 15. In 2008, the National Weather Service determined the AZ Monsoon starting date along with the ending date of September 30.
What causes monsoon?
Traders sailing the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea used the word monsoon to describe a system of alternating winds which blow from the northeast during the northern winter and from the southwest, during the northern summer. Therefore, the term monsoon refers solely to a seasonal wind shift, and not precipitation.
Arizona happens to be located in the area of the United States that experiences a monsoonal circulation. During the summer months, winds shift from a west or northwest direction to a south or southeasterly direction.
This wind shift allows moisture from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico to stream into Arizona. A monsoonal circulation produces a radical change in moisture conditions throughout the entire state.
Thunderstorm or cumulonimbus clouds are very familiar during monsoon season. These storm clouds cause lightning, hail and heavy rain.
What Arizona experiences during the summer months is only a small part of a larger circulation that encompasses much of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Thus, it sometimes is also known as the Mexican monsoon. The National Weather Service calls it the North American Monsoon.
This adjustment in wind direction is the result of two meteorological changes:
- the movement northward of the huge upper level subtropical high pressure system, known as the Bermuda High,
- and the intense heating of the Mohave Desert creating rising air and surface low pressure, called a thermal low
The southerly low-level winds help to bring in moisture from Mexico. When this moisture encounters the higher terrain of Arizona mountain ranges, it gets lifted and forms thunderstorms.
Small driving factors such as: atmosphere interaction, land elevation, soil moisture and vegetation all play a part in what drives the Arizona Monsoon; but it is also why predicting storm intensity is so difficult.
When such high volume rain descends upon the Arizona desert the ground and the surface streets flood. Quite often the rain pools on streets during monsoon storms causing dangerous driving conditions.
The monsoon circulation does not produce thunderstorms every day during the summer months, but rather monsoon storms occur in a pattern known as “bursts” and “breaks”.
This cycle of bursts and breaks will continue from the onset of the monsoon (typically June), until the time when cold fronts begin to move across the state of Arizona (typically September), which will return our winds to a westerly or northwesterly direction.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Our goal was to make Monsoon Season easier to understand.