Monsoon Season in Arizona

Monsoon season is the local name for the violent thunderstorms that crash down on us in July and August. Before I moved here, I snickered at the name. Last night, the first monsoon rain hit this area, and I’m not snickering.

You can hear the thunder and see the lightning long before the rain arrives. Last night the storm came in from the East, and I heard it at about 9 p.m. I went outside and the sky, normally fairly dark in Phoenix’s light-polluted city limits, was plum purple. The clouds were low and back lit with lightning. The thunder grew louder over the next hour, and at shortly after 10 p.m., I shut down the computer, pulled the plug out, turned off the lights and stepped onto the sidewalk outside.

The first drops came down as if shot from guns. Big, loud drops rattled through the trees. Then the rain began to beat down with amazing force. The drops splashed up on the sidewalk and parking lot, bounced off the metal roof that serves as sun protection in the parking lot. The noise drummed off the metal and rumbled a hollow tattoo on the cement staircase by my bedroom window. The waterspout shot a geyser into the parking lot.

Then, as fast as it came, it was over. Half an hour later, it repeated itself. I went to bed and opened the blinds a bit to watch the lightning crawl across the sky.

This water blast fills up arroyos (dried creek beds) quickly. Where they cross streets, the water rushes across with such an intensity that just 8 inches of water can sweep an SUV off the road and downstream. Although this is a well-known fact, there are always people who try to cross the roads and have their cars swept away. This happens so often that the police now ticket drivers who need to be winched from water crossings. The proceed is called the “stupid tax.”

The next morning, the sky is blue, washed clean of summer dust and dirt. But the humidity is on the rise. At 105 degrees, 28 percent humidity (and a 55-degree dewpoint) feels sticky. Most monsoons come in the afternoon and evening, although as the season wears on, and the rainstorms are replaced by duststorms, the storms can come any time of the day.

It may be time to buy more colored pencils, although a camera may be called for here. The photos are Chris Lee’s award-winning shot of a monsoon rain in the painted forest, and Cobalt123’s shot of an afternoon thundercloud with that odd coloring of monsoon clouds. The shot was in Glendale, a close-in suburb of Phoenix.

–Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and writer. She is also a certified creativity coach who lives in the Phoenix area. See her work at