FAQ: Chasing the Southwestern Monsoon

Hi everybody, by request I have written this in response to the many questions I receive to give an idea of what it is like to chase the Arizona Monsoon.

In this thread, I will address the Arizona portion of the North American Monsoon. This activity flows into Arizona from Mexico and influences the deserts and high country.
I have been chasing this Monsoon for 11 years and since then have fallen in love with the whole experience. So here are my personal FAQs...hope they help! These are personal opinions/experiences. Pls feel free to add yours.

<u1></u1>What is the North American Monsoon?
The NAM is a seasonal wind shift that influences the Southwestern and Western United States. In Arizona, the official Monsoon Season runs from June 15-Sept 30.

Within the Season, thunderstorm activity ranges. Some days there can be no storms, some days isolated cells, and other days large areas of violent, severe weather. The word “monsoon†comes from the Arabic, “mausim†which means “wind shiftâ€. Monsoon tracker:<o></o>
What will I chase during Monsoon?<o></o>
Lightning photography is a prized catch of the Arizona monsoon. If active storms are present, Arizona’s lightning spawns from high-based clouds permitting great views of the lightning structure over startlingly beautiful terrain. I say this though with a caveat that Arizona’s lightning is extremely dangerous. The risk is quite real so be sure to be informed. Staying back produces better photography around here anyway; as your lightning will have context. Shelter is recommended. Here is a typical-looking Arizona bolt (over Saguaro cacti)...

Precipitation here is not required for a storm to be a lightning-producer. Although Doppler radar helps, it is not an indicator of the presence of lightning because Doppler measures precip. Other weather phenomena of the Monsoon include microbursts, sandstorm (haboob), high winds, rain torrents, flash floods and very colorful sunsets. Tornadoes are rare (but cannot be ruled out entirely).<o></o>
What is the storm structure like?<o></o>
Often seen are highly localized pulse convective storm towers possibly assisted by orographic features, mountains and sharp terrain. Cloud bases are relatively high. Read the sky by searching for cotton ball/cauliflour appearances. Promising towers will not appear soft, frayed or mushy. Hard, knuckle-like edges indicate strength. Not present are stratiform rains such as Seattle drizzle, or the rotating supercells of the Great Plains.

All convective development, even benign-looking cumuli with no rain, should be considered possibly electrified.<o></o>

Here is a typical Monsoon tower (tinted red by the presence of sand in the air).
What time of day will I chase and for how long?<o></o>
For myself, I begin my chases around sunset and wrap things up around 1am-2am. Lightning photography is best achieved at night. Daytime monsoon activity could include flash floods or haboob. The Colorado Plateau's (northern AZ) storms are often daytime occurring.

How does the precipitation fall?<u1></u1>
The Monsoon’s precip falls from localized raincores in an iso or scattered fashion and can be extremely heavy. When strong storms are present, expect the threat of street and desert flash flooding. Hail can be quarter sized. Larger is rare. Here is what one of the torrents looks like http://www.lightninglady.com/photos/StromTorrent.jpg<o></o>
What are some signs that it will be a good/bad chase day?<o></o>
The Monsoon flow comes primarily from Mexico, from the south. Winds from the southeast indicate a promising flow. West winds coming from the California deserts indicate drying and will push the storms to the east. A promising sign on a surface chart is the H sitting over the Four Corners (junction of AZ/New Mex/Colo/UT). The clockwise rotation of the H can bring the flow in from the southeast, one desirable synoptic condition. Higher dewpoints are favorable of course.<o>
What are my odds?<o></o>
Monsoon chasing is for the patient and persistent. This type of chasing can bring frustrations if someone can only stay for a long weekend or a couple of days. If this is the case, the expedition will have to chase very aggressively to harvest good photos from the Monsoon. Driving long distances across Arizona or New Mexico might be needed the shorter the time spent here. Hopes would be that visiting chasers would not hit a “breakâ€. If lucky, a visitor will hit the Monsoon pattern during one of the “burst†cycles, when violent severe weather is active and chasers needn't travel far.

<u1></u1>Some feel that to improve one’s odds, chasing at the onset or at the close of the season is often favorable. I can understand that. The second week of July can be more active, as well as can be Labor Day weekend. For myself, over 11 years of chasing monsoon, I have found that Labor Day weekend and the first week of September has held good promise. In August, the “burst and break†pattern can be more pronounced. Still, from early July through Sept, potential is there for a score or a bust at any time.<o>

</o><u1></u1>Odds can also be increased by staying east and southeast in the State of Arizona where the Monsoon flow is more generous. Recommended as well are more mountainous areas that are helped by orographic lift, rather than in the western deserts where it is hot and dry. (I do not chase Yuma/Quartzsite/Parker/Blythe for example, but rather, see my favored list below).<o>

</o><u1></u1>Arizona is only partially desert, although people often think it is all desert because they fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The State contains 6 life zones, ranging from Lower Sonoran desert to alpine. Alpine/Canadian or Hudsonian high country zones experience more active weather, as does the southeast corner of the State.
What is a “haboob†and how can I find one?<o></o>
The word “haboob†comes from the Arabic “habb†meaning “windâ€. In the Arizona Desert, a haboob is a sand wall, the same type that is seen in the Sahara, 2-3,000 ft high, rolling across the desert. They are spectacular to see but can cause zero visibility while driving. They form when a thunderstorm dies over desert terrain, fanning up a sand wall in all directions. A haboob is a prize for a chaser, due to the incredible appearance. Wide angle is recommended. They occur in the Phoenix metro area a few times per summer.
Here is a picture of a piece of a haboob coming into Phoenix. http://www.lightninglady.com/photos/StromSandstormAZ.jpg
A haboob is a sign of thunderstorm activity and considered promising for a night of chasing. <o>
What about desert wildlife?<o></o>
Arizona is home to a wide range of desert and mountain plants and animals.
</u1>Noted animals include javalina (peccary/like pig), bobcat, coyote, mountain lion, black bear, desert bighorn sheep, deer, elk, pronghorn and coatimundi.<o>

</o><u1></u1>Common birds are quail, roadrunner, heron, flicker, gila woodpecker, red cardinal, cactus wren and of course hummingbirds and eagles & hawks, vultures and large owls. The Chiricahua alone is home to 300 different species of bird. Arizona attracts many birders.

<o></o><u1></u1>Reptiles that may be seen include lizards (such as Gila Monster), Western Diamondback, Mojave and Blacktail rattlesnakes, king snakes, banded gecko, just for starters.<o></o>
Insects are hardy including tarantula, scorpions, beetles such as cactus longhorn and palo verde, tarantula hawk wasp, Africanized bees, carpenter bees, wind scorpion, some mighty ants and beautiful butterflies such as Tiger Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail and Queen. Mosquitoes can also be experienced esp at dusk.<o></o>
</u1>Large toads can also come out during Monsoon.<o></o>
</u1>Scorpion tip: Don’t fear. They don’t go around looking for humans to sting. What they would like to sting is their next meal. I would be nervous only if I was a cricket or grasshopper. As a human, I check my shoes and I don’t walk around yards, patios and pools barefoot. Keep car doors closed while chasing, and don’t leave clothes on motel room floor. <o>
How hot does it get?<o></o>
Desert heat during Monsoon can be extreme. One-teens F can happen quite easily in the Sonoran Desert areas. Make sure to bring plenty (overcompensate) of water in the vehicle and car in good repair. It is worth looking up on a medical website how to avoid dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Also, I find that bananas, dates, and electrolyte/mineral powder from the health food store are of benefit. The high country (forests) offers relief.
What are some hazards?<u1></u1>
Aside from the natural dangers of lightning, flash floods (I will not cross), watch for shaky powerlines (they do come down), blowing debris such as large tumbleweeds or forest debris (Rim & Flagstaff) and also be aware of people doing various things in the desert, drinking, shooting, etc. There is still a Wild West factor out here. Animals are also a driving hazard, particularly elk on the Rim and roaming livestock on the rangeland.<o></o>
(Continued below...there was a wordcount limit)
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Okay... here is Part II (after an unexplainable attack of smilies in my post which I had to fix! lol)

What does Arizona look like?<O =""></O>
Arizona is a highly mountainous state containing vast wide open spaces and extreme, rugged, mountainous terrain. Main features include the Colorado Plateau, canyon country, the Mogollon Rim (a 200-mile long escarpment), basin & range, mesas, Madrean sky islands, the Colorado River, and more. The state contains 6 life zones, from desert to alpine. Terrain presents a huge variety, and even the deserts are teeming with life that is finely-tuned for survival.

What are the Monsoon chaser’s hot spots?<O =""></O>
There are many. Here are some favorites of mine:
Near the Mazatzal range including Four Peaks<O =""></O>
The Superstition Mountains<O =""></O>
The Mogollon Rim – Payson to Show Low<O =""></O>
Canyon/mining country along highway 60 to Globe<O =""></O>
Safford and the Mt. Graham area<O =""></O>
Southeast Arizona: Willcox, Benson, Tombstone area (more generous monsoon flow)<O =""></O>
The Central Deserts<O =""></O>
The I-17 to Flagstaff corridor<O =""></O>
Prescott, Sedona<O =""></O>
Wickenburg<O =""></O>
To name a few.
<O =""></O>
Can I chase the Plateau and Grand Canyon?<O =""></O>
Daytime storms are more common up on the Plateau. Under the right synoptic conditions there may be storms at night. Check the weather page for Bellemont AZ (Flagstaff).<O =""></O>
<O =""></O>
Is chasing the Arizona/Mexico borderlands safe?
I do not recommend chasing in and around the Arizona/Mexico border at this time. I also discourage entering the Tohono O’odham Nation to chase, out of respect for their efforts to curb illegal border activity that is currently impacting their Nation because of their close proximity to the border. Check with the US Dept of Interior’s website for details.<O =""></O>
http://www.doi.gov/initiatives/borderlands.html<O =""></O>

On the upside, Arizona contains 116,000 square miles. There is no need to chase the borderlands anyway.

Should I chase on Indian land?<O =""></O>
Travel on Indian land commonly requires a tribal permit. Some thoroughfares are allowed, but it is best to check each tribe’s rules for travel and recreation, as they vary. Off-highway tribal road travel without permit can be a citable offense. A lone photographer in the community can also be seen as a person of suspicion, so be sure to respect their rules. There are often other reasons as well to just go elsewhere, such as respect for the community, avoidance of children playing nearby and animals/dogs that are allowed to roam about on open Indian land. Indian nations can also, however, encourage tourism. Check with the tribal nation about opportunities, such as Navajo lands, Apache lands and Hopi. The Heard Museum in Phoenix is a great source of tribal information as well. Heard.org.

On off days, what could I go see?<O =""></O>
The list is long, but includes:
Sedona – the most photographed rock cliffs in the world, with town main street as well<O =""></O>
The Grand Canyon – the Seventh Wonder – national park is 1 million acres<O =""></O>
Monument Valley – the big cliffs of the Western movies<O =""></O>
Downtown Flagstaff and Lowell Observatory – alpine, outdoors, fun with a Colorado feel. Cooler temperatures.<O =""></O>
The Mogollon Rim country – largest Ponderosa pine forest in the world, on the cliff’s edge. Cooler temperatures.<O =""></O>
Pinetop/Lakeside – mountain towns were Phoenicians go to escape the summer heat<O =""></O>
Ghost towns such as Jerome – a cliffside ghost town up a curvy grade.<O =""></O>
Tombstone/Bisbee…sites of the Old West<O =""></O>
Superstition Mountain/Lost Dutchman State Park – 3,000 ft cliff face with ghost town beneath. Hot weather.<O =""></O>
For urbanites: North Scottsdale (upscale shopping/dining/resorts/Cine Capri good movie theater)<O =""></O>
Mill Ave in Tempe with a college town vibe/next to ASU. Nightlife.<O =""></O>
Mt. Lemmon (Tucson) – incredible views from a Madrean sky island; all 6 life zones.<O =""></O>
Arizona/Sonoran Desert Museum (Tucson – this is an outdoor zoo so best in winter)<O =""></O>
Heard Indian Museum Phoenix (spectacular and indoor)<O =""></O>
Mission San Xavier, a famous Spanish mission.

Those are just a few.

What is a “sky island”?<O =""></O>
“Sky islands” are mountains that rise dramatically from the desert floor. Most contain all 6 life zones from Lower Sonoran Desert, Upper Sonoran, Transition (oak/pinon) to Canadian/Hudsonian/Alpine (fir, silvertip, aspen at treeline). Madrean Sky Islands protrude, sometimes to 11,000 ft elevation, and initiate mountain storms. Examples: Mt. Lemmon, Mt. Graham.

Where can I talk to desert dwellers?<O =""></O>

How old is a Giant Saguaro?<O =""></O>
They can be up to 200 years old and up to 40 feet tall. This is the state cactus.

What makes the desert smell like “rain”?<O =""></O>
Google: Creosote bush
<O =""></O>
Myths?<O =""></O>
Cacti do not contain potable water!!! Don’t believe the old westerns. Bring water with you as a main priority…more than enough for everybody.

Prickly, spiny Jumping Cholla cacti do not “jump” at people. They cling most effectively as their cactus spines are purposely reverse-barbed for hitchhiking skill. But they do not jump. Carry a small pocket comb if you have to fling one off your shoe. High ouch-factor if you touch one with bare hands. What is this plant? Google: Teddy Bear Cholla.<O =""></O>
<O =""></O>
What about flash floods?<O =""></O>
A flash flood occurs when rain cannot absorb into the desert soil and therefore follows the corridors of arroyos (washes) or low spots. Flash floods can contain substantial solid material such as sand, logs, cactus, snakes, barbed wire ranch fence, so it is best not to cross at all. Road can be washed out underneath as well. The slogan out here is “Turn around…don’t drown!” and it really is true. Please Google “Arizona Stupid Motorist’s Law”. I will not cross a flash flood. It also does not have to be raining overhead for a flash flood to be happening.

and the last bit...<O ="">
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Attire?<?xml:namespace prefix = o /><o:p></o:p>
I find that jeans and boots are the most practical Sonoran wear. Jeans help protect me from cactus and the good solid boots from cholla and insects. Although boots are no guarantee against snakes, they would fare better than flip-flops! <o:p></o:p>
Ball caps, Stetsons, safari-hats or sunhats are very helpful. Sunglasses should offer good coverage, nice and dark. Sunscreen and mosquito repellent are also needed. Light-colored earth and desert colors of clothing are best. Black and red can attract insects. Avoid colognes.

Where should I stay?<o:p></o:p>
If you are going to home-base in a city such as Scottsdale or Tucson, by all means, check on the off-season deals at the upscale resorts! Camping is plentiful and would be nice in the high country as well. Check if campfires are allowed. If you would like to move about, there are plenty of motel chains esp along I-40 and I-10.

General tips?<o:p></o:p>
-Look down at your feet when walking in the desert, not at the scenery around. Spectacular scenery takes breath away but watching one’s footing is advised.<o:p></o:p>
-Lightning is highly branched, totally wild and unpredictable. Pictures describe it best I think. <o:p></o:p>
-Keep car doors closed while photographing in the desert esp if dome light is on, which will attract potential stowaway critters. A car-sweep critter-check is not a bad idea. Moths, beetles and other things can get in the car.<o:p></o:p>
-Leave yourself an escape route, in case you have to get out of an area quickly (this might be due to people drinking/shooting in the desert, other activities, etc.)<o:p></o:p>
-Please do not harm rock art or remove pottery shards from a site. <o:p></o:p>
-If you’re interested, scorpions fluoresce under blacklight. If you have a blacklight you might see one glow.<o:p></o:p>
-If you shoot film, order night work uncut/unmounted so your whole roll doesn’t risk being cut incorrectly.<o:p></o:p>
-This is awesome star-trail country.<o:p></o:p>
-Don’t fear the critters too much. If you don’t touch him, he can’t bite you :) Peek into your shoes in the morning and shake out your camping clothes.
-Distances are vast. Keep the gas tank full.
-Inquire about wilderness passes, such as the Tonto Pass (Tonto National Forest) and the Red Rock pass (Sedona). These are available at convenience stores and other vendors where the decal is displayed. Many of the ticket machines at local wilderness area gates have been removed in favor of the pass system. Information
Fee areas do exist within the county, state and national park system. Sometimes the system is a gate fee (guard station or honesty box) sometimes it is a pass purchased at a local outlet.

What are some good services?<o:p></o:p>
Oufitters: Bass Pro/Outdoor World (Mesa), Cabela’s (Glendale)<o:p></o:p>
Photography supplies and film processing: Tempe Camera (.com)<o:p></o:p>
Souvenirs & gifts: Bischoff’s, Scottsdale<o:p></o:p>
News: Azcentral.com
Want to sound like a local?<o:p></o:p>
Mogollon Rim (Moe-gee-on Rim or Muh-gee-on Rim)<o:p></o:p>
Saguaro (Suh-wahr-oh)<o:p></o:p>
Cholla (Choyah)<o:p></o:p>
Ocotillo (Ock-o-tee-yo)
Gila (hee-lah)<o:p></o:p>
Mazatzal (Mad-as-Al… just like being as mad as a guy named Al)<o:p></o:p>
Chiricahua (Cheer-ik-ah-wah)<o:p></o:p>
Tempe (Tem-pee, with slight accent on the pe, not the Tem).<o:p></o:p>
Usage of word “monsoon”:<o:p></o:p>
Incorrect: “There will be monsoons tonight”<o:p></o:p>
Correct: “There will be monsoon storms tonight”<o:p></o:p>
Monsoon denotes the season, not the individual storm.


I hope you have a great experience. Enjoy!<o:p></o:p>
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Jan 2, 2008
Olathe, KS

Thanks for taking the time to give so much information on going to AZ/NM to experience the monsoon storms. You make me want to go NOW! I hope someday to take advantage of your wonderful insights, photography tips, and travel information with my husband. We were in the southwest 20 years ago (My husband proposed to me on the south rim of Grand Canyon during a Memorial Day snow storm, 1988) and would love to see it again during the monsoon. We truly enjoyed our visit exploring the southwest and saw beautiful scenery, flowers, and animals.

On another note, I have really enjoyed your website over the past several years.

Thanks again for sharing w/ all of us!

Belinda :)


Susan that is a very good FAQ of the monsoon season and chasing in this area. This should be pinned and it looks like you put lot of time into it. Keep up the good work.
Very well done Susan. I was out there in 2001 but the flow was from the north almost the whole time. Your description of a sky island reminded me of being parked a little ways up a "mountain" I guess it was. Still very hot where I was, as a car, driving down the mountain, had snow on it.

Doug Raflik
2007 Monsooning for me was great

Good list to think about Susan. I did some Monsoon chasing in 2007 and will hope to do more in the future. I was in Tucson and southwest where I captured some pics (see below). Someday lightning shots .

2007 was my 2nd year down to Tucson during July to visit my (former business partner and ) friends. My main intent was for me to photograph and videotape 14 different types of hummingbirds near the Sierra Vista area. I had a grand time doing that for 2 days. Gosh I love those little birds!!

BTW it is called Beatty's Ranch and they have reasonable rates for their bungalows. Very nice owners. If you all are down that way try it out but check ahead beforehand for availability. Nice restaurants nearby in Sierra Vista (Asian, Italian and more).

When you are in around the Tucson to Phoenix to Scottsdale you can also try the following (as I did);

First get a AAA book if you have one or borrow one for Arizona. I also purchased and used the Frommer book for Arizona.

* The Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson with fabulous flora and fauna. (I can't believe of all that I saw I missed the gila monster which I've always wanted to see!). A must!
* The Kitt Peak telescope obervatory buildings and telescopes ( I liked it - hey I do astronomy too!)
* go for night walks (check locally) or at the Desert Museum
* Kartchner Caverns state park (south of Tucson) - I have spelunked in many area of the USA and someday I will go there
* Southeastern Bird Observatory (south of Tucson)
* Make sure you try one of the fabulous restaurants (Poca Cosa in Tucson is one I want to go to but 2 years straight they were shut down for a few weeks when I was there). I had one of the best meals at the J-Bar (very reasonable this time of the year!) with their pecan encrusted chicken, lamb appetizers and the incredible chocolate jalapeno sundae!

Don't ever try to go across streams in streets etc that are started by rains and monsoons. Last year they had a dramatic rescue on live TV of a woman who did this and her car had water all the way to the roof before she knew it. She was standing on the roof of the car and a helicopter airlifted her off before car went down the river.

N and west after the hummingbirds, I was trying to find another hummingbird havenin Patagonia. I had taken pictures from afar of a rainstorm a couple hours before. Finally I found the place and was rounding the bend to go over the streambed to the place. This is what it looked like.

The water had risen from nothing and a drybed to feet! So I could not see the hummingbirds at that place that day (it was across the road) as I had to get back to Tucson. But this was an eye opener about Monsoons!


Mar 15, 2007
Essex - UK

Many Thanks for putting that together, you probably already know how much I loved it out there last week from the number of questions we fired at you, beautiful scenery, spectacular storms and great company, many thanks to you and Alan for looking after us, did not get a chance to say goodbye as the pattern changed so quickly and we had to get away from the furnace that was Phoenix, we had a great day around Flagstaff with some Pulse Storms on the Monday and got some nice footage. Hope to see you out there Chasing in the near future be it near to the Superstition Mountains or out in the Plains (Long Overdue)


Paul Sherman
Hey Paul,
It was my absolute pleasure showing you guys around the Sonoran Desert. It was nice that you brought Alan along too as he seems to have a lot of desert knowledge as well. I met him briefly last year but I thought his main interest was running his cool bar/restaurant. Didn't know he was also accomplished in the film industry.

Meanwhile I have to say that you guys, even though from urban London where the driving is different and the temperatures are cool, impressed the heck out of me as it seemed you took to the Wild West with ease, and we went to some areas in Arizona that were certainly off the beaten path. (and no one freaked out over the car-wildlife either. I'm still wondering what's in my car LOL!)

I was disappointed in the storm gods last week for shutting the faucet off midweek. Friday night & Sat was better but soon enough we ran up on this Monsoon's first official break in what is known in Monsoon lingo as the "burst & break" pattern. I'm glad we got on some of the action that we did in the Central Deserts & (were you with them near Lake Pleasant as well?) before that H moved in and funneled dry air up from the Baja and hot & dry California Deserts (which are different deserts entirely than the subtropical Sonoran). As well, Ms. Dolly's center of circulation which was progged to be a little extra juice for the Sonoran ended up in Tucumcari NM, darn her :/

I did see that big blowup over the Catalinas around 1am but everyone was jetlagged so it was good to be fresh for our 8-hr jaunt the next day. By the time we got to mining country it was clear though that we were already into the "break" cycle. We would have needed to proceed on to New Mexico for a score. Had we had more time that would have worked nicely.

The Monsoon flow alas has returned to Arizona lastnight and clouds are again in the sky. Action is forecasted for the weekend as well. It is hotter than a pistol outside in PHX but such is the engine that gets things ignited around here before rains cool things down. Great day to be up on the Plateau as well for a chase and cooler mountain temps. I might head up that way soon and pop into the Flagstaff wx office. You guys didn't miss a thing though Tues-Thurs as the break pattern was entrenched. Fortunately (yay) it feels like Monsoon again.

I wish you all could have stayed longer & seen the Monsoon return to burst pattern when it really kicks up its heels. But I'm glad there was some stuff on Friday night and a little on Saturday. It was so nice to have you for just the couple days and I'm sure I'll see you out in the Plains as well before too long! You have an open invite to chase the Sonoran with me anytime.

Cheers, Susan
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That's the best map. It is funny too how the Mogollon Rim is so apparent; shaded in orange. Thanks for posting that for everyone!

I like the little orange circle south near Denver too, although I would be interested to know why that circle exists, and why there is a blue area just west of the Sangre de Cristos. Weird. Glad I don't live in the blue zone :)

In New Mex you can clearly see that the orange hits the higher altitudes like the Sacramento Mtns and up near Angelfire. East near Clovis/Portales defined as a lightning magnet is unexplained; as it is rather flat out that way. It is however a stone's throw from West TX, so nearly Tornado Alley. Wild weather abounds; altitude not needed.

The Arizona/Mex borderlands, also an orange zone, often light up like a Christmas tree. Down Highway 19 there south of Tucson things can get wild. Border concerns warrant watching though.

Lastnight I chased here, north of the Sawtooth Mountains again (Arizona's Sawtooth Mountains) http://www.lightninglady.com/photos/LLCallofthedesert.jpg and even up that far, near Eloy AZ, border patrol was out & about. I had to be careful, but the lightning was like a never-ending freight train.
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Bobby Prentice


I like the little orange circle south near Denver too, although I would be interested to know why that circle exists, and why there is a blue area just west of the Sangre de Cristos. Weird. Glad I don't live in the blue zone :)
The "orange circle" (lightning maximum) between Denver and Colorado Springs is likely associated with thunderstorms triggered by the mountain/plains wind circulation around Pike's Peak and the Palmer Divide.

The blue lightning minimum area over southcentral Colorado is located within the San Luis Valley. It makes sense that this valley is a local minimum when you consider that most of their lightning is triggered by the valley wind (breeze) circulation. This circulation favors lightning over the mountains and mountain slopes with a minimum over the valleys.
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Jason Caster

The few thunderstorms we get here in southern Oregon are almost always a result of a trickled monsoon. The storms are high based 98% of the time, and largely affected by the Cascade Range. They tend to stay east of the cascades in the Klamath Basin, but a few wayward storms stray over Medford.

The Monsoon affect recently caused a tornado to touch down just outside of Reno near Fallon, NV.

I'm thankful for the few storms the Monsoon sends our way, although the high based storms are the main culprit for our many forest fires (cg strikes).

Nice write up Susan, you obviously really put some great time and effort into it.
Jan 28, 2005
Haslett, Michigan
The "orange circle" (lightning maximum) between Denver and Colorado Springs is likely associated with thunderstorms triggered by the mountain/plains wind circulation around Pike's Peak and the Palmer Divide.

The blue lightning minimum area over southcentral Colorado is located within the San Luis Valley. It makes sense that this valley is a local minimum when you consider that most of their lightning is triggered by the valley wind (breeze) circulation. This circulation favors lightning over the mountains and mountain slopes with a minimum over the valleys.
In "Mountain Meterology-Fundamentals and Applications" by C. David Whiteman...suggests that terrain related convergence zones trigger storms on day to day basis in the same mountainous areas in Colorado.

Terrain forced mechanisms include orographic lifting, channeling and lee side convergence. Terrain convective mechanisms include convection over surface with low albedos(snow vs rock/sunny side/shady side), upslope flow convergence and convergence displacement.

There is a map that shows thunderstorm initiation density contours for Colorado with Pikes Peak, the Wet Mountains, Sangres De Cristo Range(the most), and the Front Range WSW of Denver being the primary hot spots.

I would think with Pike's Peak placement..large isolated peak on the Front range...would cause lee side convergence of mid level westerly flow on the East side of the peak as wind flow goes just to the North and South of the peak..where it would often encounter low-level upslope flow. "Channeling flow" up the narrow valleys help not to mention that convection would have a higher tendency to maintain itself as it drifts off the mountains ENE in the vicinity of the high terrain associated with the Palmer divide and the convergence that is often present there.
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Dan Robinson

That's a very interesting map. I've seen similar, but not with such high resolution.

That map really shows the influence of Gulf moisture behind most of the US' lightning. It's also interesting to see the northern and western Plains having significantly less activity than farther east, and western West Virginia totaling as many strikes as Arizona and New Mexico! I really don't have it so bad over here.

If you're wanting to go where the lightning is, the Gulf Coast and Florida is always it. I think southern and coastal LA, MS and AL are probably underrated lightning photography hotspots - just looking at the work from chasers there like Johnny Autery and Terry Pallister says it all.
I have never chased Florida but I understand that although the lightning happens often, it is harder to see due to lower clouds/mistier conditions. Am I correct/incorrect? I don't know; I do see some great lightning photos coming from Florida. Often they are over the ocean.

The crazy terrain/canyon country, mesas, and jagged mtns of the Southwest are a big plus in lightning photography. High cloud bases help the lightning to be visible too, and most bolts are heavily branched. However the finicky Monsoon can make chasing the Southwest challenging, with many miles driven. It also has a shorter season than Florida. AZ's is July-early Sept. I have been making the most of it; just got back from my 4th trip to the Central Deserts this week. Pattern is very active; those 4 trips netted 3 scores, so I'm pleased about that. (a score in my book is catching the storm and successfully photographing it; and having at least one serious keeper).
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Talk about a burst pattern. Is anyone else chasing the never-ending storm machine that has been the Arizona monsoon this week?

Tonight will be my 5th trip to the Central Deserts since Sunday. I might need to sleep eventually! Drying predicted for next week...maybe I'll catch up then. But who knows...

Curious what other monsoon-chasers are seeing.
A few little local news bites to share about lastnight's (Thurs 08/07/08) monsoon storm in Phoenix, Arizona. This is pretty typical.

15,000 customers were w/o power during peak of storm; 375 homes still dark

West Valley of Phoenix - 70 powerlines down

Street-flooding due to heavy downpours

1 roof taken

Trees uprooted pretty much all over town

Massive desert haboob, that was a big feature

Airport was closed; some flights rerouted to Vegas.

It was quite an event Thursday night.

What I did with it - chase the sandstorm wall at sunset (pics being scanned); then stayed on Central Deserts lightning storms for another 3 hours.

PS: gas pumps go down when towns lose power. Even though I had plenty after the sandstorm, I wanted to top off. Could not do so at main station in Maricopa; town had intermittent power. Had to find another station later. This would have been a big deal if I had been low. A lot of land out there between services.
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I'm just starting to get '08 pictures back and have my slides scanned.

I remark about the "Central Deserts" of Arizona a lot. This is what the Central Deserts look like from one of my little spots down there.

Where are the Central Deserts? They include a vast expanse of Sonoran Desert in the south central part of the State between Phoenix and Tucson.

Some of the "Central Deserts" towns are Maricopa, Sacaton, Eloy, Casa Grande, Picacho, Arizona City, all of which are pretty small towns with the exception of CG (love the initials) which is growing. There is still a lot of land between services so plenty of gas is advised. There are services along I-10, part of which is a major artery of travel through the Central Deserts.

The Central Deserts are capable of producing oppressive heat and sun. Since towns are far between, there is no urban heat island. Summer storminess can be generous.

A lot of people don't know this, but a very small Civil War battle was fought in the Central Deserts, near a mountain called Picacho Peak (not far from the range below).

Mountain ranges in the Central Deserts can be jagged, rising abruptly from desert floor, and are typically covered in Saguaro cacti, Ironwood trees and Palo Verde.

This range, called the Sawtooth Mountains, under severe weather can look a bit like a place where ghosts would wander. Either that or Martians :)

The Arizona desert is capable of creating some really weird colors, especially when storm clouds are around. My pics are undoctored. In this case, the sun had just set under a cloud deck that made everything look funny, almost like sepia. That happens sometimes. Sand in the air can add a wine-colored cast; don't be surprised if that happens in your photos when sand is aloft. I don't edit it out; it is natural.

Other times, mountains (usually toward the east) can turn a bright ruby/purple color, if only for an instant. For photographers, watch for times when the sun sets under a deck of stratus. This bounces light around and can make mountains look purple just for a few moments. Doesn't happen every day but it is nice when it does. Let me see if I can dig up a past example of this: http://www.lightninglady.com/photos/StromLostDutch.jpg
Arizona's color palette, especially when stormy, can be pretty weird. Best chance to see would be late day into evening, in partly cloudy or stormy conditions.

This is a Monsoon storm from Sun Aug 3 '08 that rolled over the Sawtooths, hitting the tops of the mountains. The Sawtooths are a bit of a storm magnet. I go back there a lot; I love the shapes of the desert mountains and the moods of different lighting conditions.

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Mister Sandman bring me a dream...

Caught a sandstorm (haboob) last week in the Central Deserts. The closest town would be Maricopa and the Gila River Indian Community, although this was out in the open desert on a nice road that was kind of a dream actually.

Sandstorms in Arizona form when a thunderstorm dies out and the sinking air fans out a sand wall in all directions.

They're pretty dramatic as they approach. I just let them pass over me, and be careful of the gusty winds, blowing debris, and decreased visibility. I also put eyewear on so the sand doesn't get in them and sometimes put a scarf over mouth depending on how thick it is.

They are fun to chase. I like to get right up to the edge, let it roll over me, then drive out of it and do it again.