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Why Arizona Gets Monsoon Storms

by April Warnecke, 3TV

UPDATE: Although this blog post was written for monsoon season in 2014, Arizona’s monsoon season happens every year!

Lightning. Flash floods. Dust storms. Torrential rainfall. It’s all part of the Arizona monsoon season, which can also be breathtaking. Last year’s season was an active one, with several major storm outbreaks and even flooded neighborhoods. This year has been mild so far, but we’re not through yet.

The monsoon season is caused by a seasonal change in winds.  As the land heats up in the summer, strong high pressure develops to our east, and air flow begins to change. Instead of our usual westerly winds, southerly and southeasterly winds develop, bringing a flow of moisture from both the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico into Arizona.

In 2014, Arizona’s monsoon season seemed like one big rainfall after another. The Valley usually gets about three inches of rain total every monsoon season, which runs from June 15 to September 30.  Last year, we got more than 6 inches, with most of that coming late in the season in August and September.

One of the most spectacular parts of a monsoon thunderstorm is the lightning. Every year, Arizona is hit by a million bolts of lightning, providing a brilliant show but also sometimes sparking wildfires.

Microbursts are also a frequent fixture during monsoon season. Characterized by high winds (and sometimes extensive property damage), microbursts are formed when rain quickly cools the surrounding air, which sends the outflow of a thunderstorm rushing toward the ground, sometimes at more than 100 miles per hour.  Sometimes, outflows from storms can pick up dust in the deserts of the state and send it toward the Valley in impressive walls of sand and dust.

From dust to rain, lightning and flash flooding, Arizona weather can be unpredictable, beautiful and surprising.  Every day is different, most especially during the monsoon.

What do you know about our monsoon? Learn more:

See more of our 3TV monsoon special and then test your knowledge with our online quiz.

Meteorologist April Warnecke delivers the forecasts on 3TV’s “Good Morning! Arizona.” She loves forecasting monsoon storms and says the unpredictability of the season is what makes it exciting. From graupel, hail and dust storms to flash flooding and lightning, our Arizona weather is so unique that it often makes headlines all over the world. 

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