The public is being asked its opinion on getting rid of the monsoon. Not the sweltering stickiness and afternoon thunderstorms — those are here to stay. But the National Weather Service is considering a different way to describe the annual weather event that turns the dry desert air into soup.
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Tony Haffer, meteorologist in charge of the local weather service bureau, said the word “monsoon” may be getting in the way of warning people about the potential dangers of the summer’s violent weather.
Instead, mentioning the monsoon turns into either a hair-splitting analysis of the word’s proper usage or a losing-the-forest-for-the-trees discussion of dew points and shifting winds.
“It’s confused the average person,” Haffer admitted Monday. “We want to rethink the way we’re doing things.”
In response, the weather service is considering a blanket declaration of “summer thunderstorm season,” which would run from June through September.
This would be much like the Atlantic hurricane season, which officials have designated as a stretch from June 1 to November 30.
“Of course, you can have hurricanes outside of hurricane season and, of course, you can have thunderstorms outside thunderstorm season,” Haffer said. “So, it’s OK.”
Currently, the monsoon is declared following three consecutive days with an average dew point of at least 55 degrees, and the first day is considered the start of the season. That, Haffer said, is an excellent indicator that tropical moisture has infiltrated arid Arizona.
If this week’s forecast holds, Wednesday will mark the start of the 2007 monsoon. However, this comes with problems.
First, it is entirely possible to have an early-July thunderstorm, with strong winds kicking up dust and knocking down power lines, before the monsoon. That’s what happened Friday, and demonstrates the confusion created by clinging too tightly to the dew point description.
Additionally, there’s no hard and fast rule to determine when the monsoon is over. With the declaration of a fixed thunderstorm season, Haffer said, “It’s over when it’s over.”
Even if a change were to take place, the weather service would still keep track of the monsoon’s official start. There’s no sense in discarding decades of data.
“But in terms of raising awareness, I think it can be a cleaner thing for everyone,”
A monsoon is a storm.
Despite the term’s common misuse, a monsoon is a seasonal shifting of winds that occurs in several places around the globe.
Monsoon occurs at the same time statewide.
In fact, the monsoon arrives at different times throughout the state. On average, it reaches Tucson four days before it hits the Valley.
An active monsoon alleviates drought.
While summer rainfall is vital to some desert wildlife, monsoon-related storms do not contribute significantly to alleviating long-term drought. Winter snowfall and spring runoff are by far the biggest contributors to replenishing Arizona’s water supply.
The monsoon has been getting drier.
Historical rainfall data show that monsoon precipitation varies from year to year, but there is no indication of a drying trend.
Tornadoes occur during a monsoon.
While not impossible, it is highly unlikely to have a tornado during a monsoon. Arizona gets an average of three tornadoes per year, most of which form during the winter months when westerly winds are strong and air mixes with a cold front from the north. Damaging downbursts are more common in monsoon storms.