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Arizona Monsoon Storms
Welcome to my page of quotations about Arizona's monsoons, which also occur in other parts of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. July, August, and September are monsoon season here — and occasionally late June or early October — when we get a few storms with lightning, thunder, heavy rains, strong winds, or haboobs. Here where we get so very little precious rain, the clouds and stormy weather can be welcome and refreshing excitements! The more our Valley has grown and become a heat island, however, the fewer storms we have and the ones we do get come and go quickly. These much less active years are known as the "nonsoon" by locals. But I am always deliriously happy for anything that comes our way. Be safe, fellow desert dwellers and enjoy the quotes! —ღ Terri
The water that came last winter is long gone. "Female rain," it's called in Navajo: the gentle, furtive rains that fall from overcast skies between November and March... What we're waiting for now is male rain. Big, booming, wait-till-your-father-gets-home cloudbursts that bully up from Mexico and threaten to rip the sky. ~Barbara Kingsolver, "Making Peace," 1998
In late June, the mercury rises to uncomfortable levels. Dry grasses bake in relentless sun and parking is determined by shade, not distance. Then the wind picks up. Clouds start rolling in. Cumulus thunderheads darken the sky, and most Arizonans wait eagerly for the first quenching drops of rain. The monsoon season has arrived. ~“Arizona’s Monsoon Season,” ArizonaExperience.org, 2012
The thunderbird flaps its great wings, and the fresh fragrance of imminent desert downpours tantalizes the nostrils. Nature is ready to explode onto Arizona another monsoon season. ~Carle Hodge, "Monsoon Season," in Arizona Highways, August 1986, arizonahighways.com
She left in August after the last rain of the season. Summer storms in the desert are violent things, and clean, they leave you feeling like you have cried. ~Barbara Kingsolver, "Hallie's Bones," Animal Dreams, 1990
Far on the desert rim the thunder breaks
And white clouds turn to steel above the plain.
Now it will rain.
~Sylvia Lewis Kinney, "August," in Arizona Highways, 1968
Waiting for the end of the drought becomes an obsession. It's literally 110 degrees in the shade today, the kind of weather real southwesterners love to talk about. We have our own kind of Jack London thing, in reverse: Remember that year (swagger, thumbs in belt) when it was 122 degrees and planes couldn't land at the airport?... We revel in our misery only because we know the end, when it comes, is so good. One day there will be a crackling, clean, creosote smell in the air and the ground will be charged and the hair on your arms will stand on end and then BOOM, you are thrillingly drenched. ~Barbara Kingsolver, "Making Peace," 1998 [Ah, yes, the famous 122º Phoenix day, June 26th 1990. We all remember where we were! –tg]
late June, monsoon — kaboom!
patter, splatter, fat drops gather
splats, taps, windowpane raps
wind whips, swish, whish —
summer's rumbling thunder
flash, crash, lightning dash
plash, splash, sky unlashed
~Terri Guillemets, "Summer wonder," 2007
The dark thunder-clouds that occasionally gather over the desert seem at times to reserve all their stores of rain for one place. The fall is usually short-lived but violent... In a very short time there is a great torrent pouring down the valley... It is a yellow, thick stream that has nothing but disaster for the man or beast that seeks to swim it...
The desert rainfall comes quickly and goes quickly. The sands drink it up... ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901
The spectacular summer thunderstorms that send torrents of water, rock, and cactus down usually dry desert washes and the soft Pacific rains of the winter serve as a catalyst to the survival of most desert animals and reptiles. Getting their moisture from seeds and other forage, other desert critters can go their entire lifetime without a drink of water. ~Marshall Trimble, Arizona: A Panoramic History of a Frontier State, 1977
The sun is rolling slowly
Beneath the sluggish folds of sky-serpents,
Coiling, uncoiling, blue black, sparked with fires.
Above the smell of scorching, oozing pinyon,
The acrid smell of rain.
And now the showers
Surround the mesa like a troop of silver dancers:
Shaking their rattles, stamping, chanting, roaring...
~John Gould Fletcher (1886–1950), "Rain in the Desert" (Arizona Poems), 1915
Students tired of the sunshine also get a reprieve when the monsoon season hits at the end of July. The torrents of rain rarely fail to flood streets. Almost nightly people can view lightning shows that often make the sky as bright as daylight. And before the storms hit Arizonans can view a sight not seen in most states, the duststorm. This natural occurrence often leaves a newcomer in awe as dust particles rise up to change a clear blue sky into a murky-yellow one. ~University of Arizona Desert yearbook, 1982, edited by Eleanor McDaniel and Suzan Johnson
You know you're an Arizona native when you run to the window just to watch a dust storm. ~Marshall Trimble, quoted in You Know You're an Arizona Native, When…, compiled by Don Dedera, 1993
June is the cruelest month in Tucson... Every plant looks pitiful and, when you walk past it, moans a little, envious because you can walk yourself to a drink and it can't... In June there is no vital sign, not so much as a humid breath against a pane of glass, till the summer storms arrive. ~Barbara Kingsolver, "Making Peace," 1998
It was thunder-weather. Out of doors, a hot and sleepy air hung over the city... ~May Sinclair, Audrey Craven, 1906 [not about Arizona —tg]
July-sky billowy wind-gusty
blazed wet desert-wild
lightning-dancing monsoon clouds!
~Terri Guillemets, "July clouds," 2007
In July and August on the high desert the thunderstorms come. Mornings begin clear and dazzling bright. By noon, however, clouds begin to form over the mountains, coming it seems out of nowhere, out of nothing, a special creation. The sound of thunder is heard over the sun-drenched land. Anvil-headed giant clouds emerge with glints of lightning in their depths. The storm clouds continue to spread, gradually taking over more and more of the sky, and as they approach a battle breaks out. Lightning streaks like gunfire through the clouds, volleys of thunder shake the air. A smell of ozone. While the clouds exchange their bolts no rain falls, but now they begin bombarding the buttes and pinnacles below. Forks of lightning — illuminated nerves — join heaven and earth. The clouds roll in, unfurling and smoking billows in malignant violet, dense as wool. Most of the sky is lidded over but the sun remains clear halfway down the west, shining in under the storm. The clouds thicken, then crack and split with a roar like that of cannonballs tumbling down a marble staircase; their bellies open and the rain comes down. ~Edward Abbey, "Water," Desert Solitaire, 1968 [Of the Utah–Colorado area. Text a little altered. –tg]
Unlike her next door neighbor California, where rain in summer is an almost unheard-of thing, Arizona has a distinct summer "rainy season," which usually begins about the first of July and may extend to the middle of September or later. The rain is not continuous or unpleasant but merely a series of heavy showers that in a few days transform the country into a great green garden, so that Arizona really has two springs in her year and the most beautiful one follows the summer rain. ~Sharlot M. Hall, "Arizona," 1906
For most of Arizona, the monsoons should rumble in — the Indians used to say — "about a week after the locusts begin to sing at night" or when "the clouds look like many sheep." The National Weather Service, more precisely if less poetically, expects the onset around July 8, although the season has started as early as June 16 and as late as July 24. ~Carle Hodge, "Monsoon Season," in Arizona Highways, August 1986, arizonahighways.com
published 2012 Jul 8
revised 2017 Jul 21
last saved 2023 Feb 12