For about three months every year, the Desert Southwest turns into a magical landscape of pastel hues, arcing bolts of electricity and oases of life in an otherwise sandy, cactus-studded chaparral. Some communities pick up half of their annual rainfall in a few short afternoons, while others flood as dry arroyos transform into gushing rapids.
The culprit? The Southwest monsoon — a seasonal wind shift that pumps both Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean moisture northward to New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Southern California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The surge of humidity brings scattered thunderstorms that roll across the region, with high cloud bases affording spectacular views of pinpoint lightning strikes. This year’s monsoon is off to a swift start, coming weeks ahead of schedule and with a greater intensity than anticipated.
With the elegance and beauty comes concern about flash flooding and debris flows, particularly on the burn scars of wildfires that have impacted the Southwest in recent years.