FAQ: Chasing the Southwestern Monsoon

J. Sims

EF0
Nov 29, 2008
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Topeka, Kansas
Josh, I live in SoCal and I track the monsoon season obsessively ;-)....I watched some gnarly storms on GRL3 and satellite form just north of Prescott last couple of summers and they move to the SW. Are these the same type of scenarios that you expect yet haven't seen in three years? I remember one summer a few years ago tracking some massive MCS complexes between Prescott and Sedona and it just tore me up not to be there to see them first hand. I'm planning to ramp up my chases and photo opportunites this summer in Az. I expect a lot of smiles and very little sleep... ;-)
Thats the kinda stuff i like but southwests is the opposite way from where I live. Well if it forms near Prescott anyway. And when the storms form over Sedona they seem to head too far west to hit town. Having no car has made it hard to chase.

I won't be in Arizona for this years monsoons I will be in Kansas. Which reminds me I'm moving in six weeks.:eek:
I can't wait to be in tornado alley. :D
 
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Good luck in Kansas! The SW part is my favorite chase area in the Plains. Tri-cities - Garden/Liberal/Dodge. Careful out there though, unlike Arizona where there is far less worry of funnels dropping in the dark while shooting lightning, not so is the case in Kansas. Pretty gnarly times, at night in Kansas.

I understand lightning sparked a wildfire which was spotted Weds 4/22 in Sedona (Red Rock Secret Mtn Wilderness). It is called the Bear Fire, still burning, although not very large I don't think. Earlier this week I did notice some early-season Cb-looking cloud tops up your way (causing slight pre-season excitement I must admit). Although it is not Monsoon season yet, there must have been a spark or two that came out of those, which wouldn't surprise me as just about anything convective should be considered electrified out here.

Monsoon should be along in just 8 weeks or so; a bit earlier for the SE corner of Arizona. I am looking so forward to it!
 

Will Wilkens

Susan, we had some excitement on Wed in SoCal with some surprise monsoon-like activity across the mtns near Los Angeles and all across the Mojave Desert. Nothing severe but it was awesome to see the massive towering storms looming over the nearby mountains. I also read the CPC report that southeast AZ will have an enhanced monsoon this year. Very exciting news!
 
LA can get the lightning at times. I saw spectacular CGs once while driving through the Inland Empire late one night, and air strikes around Palm Springs at 4am. If I lived in LA I would head over to that windpower field in Palm Springs and try for that valley with CGs, from a safe place of course because all those hundreds of towers could be a CG mine field. Still though, what a sight!

Hey what are your monsoon hot spots relative to Indio, Springs, Chiriaco Summit, Ford Dry Lake and those areas? Would September be the best shot? Sept, late in the monsoon season, seems to be the best shot at anything in my western deserts Quartzsite, Parker, Ehrenberg at the Calif state line. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Lightning in Arizona is just 6 weeks away. I can't wait!
 

Will Wilkens

We got quite a few hotspots out here, in fact, and most are very consistent. Because of the geography and proximity to the coast, convergence zones created by the clash of the monsoon surge and the sea breezes will fire storms even when Az is quiet. In a nutshell here is a breakdown of what we got, relative to the areas you are asking:

Indio:
a) just to the southwest in a notch-like valley in the the mtns is the town of Anza. Storms will fire just to its south near Anza-Borrego and Warner Springs and migrate north/northwest right over Anza. A very consistent hot spot. You can park and wait. It's that easy.
b) a little farther to the north is 29 Palms/Joshua Tree - a very reliable hot spot. Storms here tend to be a more severe and flash flooding is a regular occurance.

Chiriaco Summit: east of here there is a hot spot that runs from the south of Desert Center and then north into the eastern foothills of Joshua Tree National Park, and then farther north out into the open desert between Amboy and Ludlow.

If you dare venture farther northwest and even north, here are a few reliable hotpots that are also a sure bet during most monsoon surge events:

Victorville/Adelanto - along Rt 395 and points west near Phelan/El Mirage Dry Lake/Lake Los Angeles
Barstow - from town to Ludlow along I-40, and to Afton Canyon along I-15 - good severe potential here
Lucerne Valley - along Barstow Rd north of town
Mountain Pass - along 1-15 between Baker and Stateline. A lot of nocturnal activity here and severe potential

Hope this helps. And yes! 6 weeks! And if all goes well. maybe end of May! :)
 
Excellent list of hot spots in the SoCal desert zones. Thank you!

I'm assuming primarily that those would be more active with the lightning, high winds, blowing sand, rain torrents and other Monsoon-related action. I had a feeling about Chiriaco. Last time I was there I was nearly blown off my feet.

What is your best timeframe for those areas?
 
Mar 15, 2004
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Tucson, Aridzona
www.flickr.com
The CPC prediction is most welcome!

Factor #4 seems to imply the possibility of an earlier-than-average arrival. Or am I just seeing things? :rolleyes:


<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="535"><tbody><tr><td valign="top" width="275">[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]CPC's precipitation outlook for June, July and August 2009 calls for enhanced probabilities of above normal precipitation for southeast Arizona. There are several reasons for this. 1) an intensifying drought over the central and southern Plains; 2) below normal mountains snowpack in the central Rockies this past winter; 3) a developing dipole of below normal sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Caribbean and above normal SSTs off the southern coast of Mexico ; 4) two separate ensemble climate/long range model suites are forecasting a rapid development of the monsoon high in May, followed by a rapid northward advance. If this northward advance [/FONT]</td> <td align="center" valign="middle" width="260"></td> </tr> <tr> <td valign="top" width="275">[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]of the high occurs as expected, it would[/FONT]</td> <td align="center" valign="middle" width="260">[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Click image to enlarge[/FONT]</td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="2" valign="top">[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] result in a shift in our winds from predominately westerly to easterly or southeasterly. This shift in the winds transports moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico and the Gulf of California or even the Plains.[/FONT]
</td></tr></tbody></table>
 

Will Wilkens

Greg, you are right! I saw that too! If I am not mistaken, #3 also suggests an early development of an El Nino scenario. Hmmm...interesting.
 

Will Wilkens

Susan, I forgot to answer your timeframe question twice in a row now... sorry about that :)

Most of the time, here in SoCal the monsoons peak in late August and early September, right around the Memorial Day weekend timeframe. But I regulary see strong surge events in mid-late July, and again first to middle part of Aug. Sometimes we get a really good first event in late June/early July, like we did in '07. And then there are a few mid/late Sept final surges which can be very strong and take storms right to the coast.
All of these events can last many days, and sometimes weeks with only a few days of calm in between. It's all about troughing over the Pacific off the Washington coast. Keeping those troughs farther west out to sea means the monsoon flow dominates in SoCal.

Now, how to I take control of those dang troughs?

Cheers!
 

Will Wilkens

I'm noticing today some first signs of the monsoon starting to establish itself down in central Mexico. Tropical Pacific moisture is streaming from the south into central Mexico with some moisture creaping up into the southern Sea of Cortez which should get into the Sierra Madres in a day or two. This is usually the early set up, moistening up the high country, and waiting for the four-corners high to start drawing it up into AZ.

I'm liking it!
 
Mar 15, 2004
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Tucson, Aridzona
www.flickr.com
Yea, Will. I'm trying not to get too optimistic, but it looks (and believe me, FEELS -103 today) like the season is perhaps a few weeks ahead of schedule. Of course the Monsoon is notoriously fickle - it may simply be teasing us puny humans as entertainment. :cool:
 
Dec 27, 2005
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Guam
I will definintly miss it this year, i got orders to guam and will be spending 3 years there, i bet this will be a good one too. I guess my next adventure will be typhoons.
 

Will Wilkens

Yeah, I tend to be a bit optimistic, and even more so now from today's Tuscon discussion:

HIGH CENTER CONSOLIDATES ACROSS THE CENTRAL BASIN NORTH AND NORTHWEST OF US BY MONDAY...COMBINED WITH THE LOW DRAWING FROM THE CENTRAL BAJA COAST NORTHWARD AROUND IT`S PERIPHERY...THIS SHOULD CREATE A DECENT SOUTHEASTERLY FETCH THROUGH SOUTHEAST ARIZONA TO START THE NEW WEEK. HIGH CENTER WOBBLES TOWARD THE FOUR CORNERS AREA BY WEDNESDAY FOR A BETTER SOUTHERLY COMPONENT TO THE FLOW...KIND OF AN AUGUST TYPE THING. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT THE MOISTURE UPSTREAM WILL NOT BE AS DEEP AS WHAT WE WILL SEE FOR THE SUMMER THUNDERSTORM SEASON. EVEN SO...IT WILL BE QUITE GOOD FOR A MAY PATTERN AND ISOLATED TO LOW END SCATTERED MOUNTAIN THUNDERSTORMS MAY PLAGUE US FOR MUCH OF THE WEEK...WITH A FEW VALLEY STORMS NOT OUT OF THE QUESTION. INITIAL MID LEVEL MOISTURE WILL MEAN RATHER HIGH BASED STORMS WITH DRY MICROBURST AND LIGHTNING POTENTIAL...BUT MOISTURE SHOULD ULTIMATELY BE SUFFICIENT FOR DECENT BRIEF RAIN CORES ASSOCIATED WITH SOME STORMS (AGAIN...FOR MAY ANYWAY).
 
Hi, for those who are curious, the daily t-storm activity in Arizona this last week has taken place in the higher terrain/forested areas and dissipated for the most part by sunset.

It is unusual to have this much storm activity late May/early June in Arizona. Smaller dry t-storms (fire weather) in the high country is more common. Storms this week have yielded daytime rain and lightning up there.

Most "genuine" Monsoon activity in the Central Deserts and Phoenix doesn't usually kick off until early July. For the southeast corner of Arizona, maybe mid to late June.

cheers
 
Jun 1, 2008
53
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California
Hey Susan and all...

Thanks so much for all your write ups on the monsoon. Love it. I usually chase the Palmdale, Mojave area being from LA. It's only an hour for me to get there. Actually, my brother and I saw a Tornado just N. of Edward's Air-force base a few years ago while chasing. Pretty cool.

I am planning on a little vacation with my family the week of Aug.22 in the Tuscan area? Any hot spots there? We will be staying near Oro Az.. I would appreciate anyones thoughts..

Thanks so much,

Brian

~~~~

www.surfingthefront.com
 
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Tucson is a hot spot in itself. There are a lot of great vantage points too, like Gates Pass, parts of the Coronado Highway (it goes in the mountains, great views but would be closer to lightning too), Mission San Xavier del Bac would be a favorite of mine (I stopped there again the other day, I love the place) and points along Highway 19. The SE corner of the state too such as Benson, Willcox, Tombstone, well they're good too...
 
From Oro Valley, the town of Oracle on AZ 77 is on the northern bajada of the Catalina Mountains with very nice views and some shoppes. At over 4,000 feet, it's a bit cooler. Along the way is Biosphere II which still, I think, gives tours (at around $20 per). A mile or so east of Oracle you drop over 2,000 feet to the San Pedro "River" -- several vistas along the way.

A nice way to return is down the San Pedro from San Manuel to Redington and then back over Redington Pass -- a favored entry for late afternoon monsoon storms in the Tucson area.

I tried to do some yard work this afternoon. Lasted about ten minutes outside at over 110 in the shade. So far the monsoon has been a bust here, unless you like dust. So much dust blew up from southwest of the city yesterday that it looked like our South Mountain Park surely was afire. So much so that I drove down there into the billowing thick cloud to check it out. Blecch!
 
Mar 15, 2004
1,042
50
11
Tucson, Aridzona
www.flickr.com
Hey Susan and all...

Thanks so much for all your write ups on the monsoon. Love it. I usually chase the Palmdale, Mojave area being from LA. It's only an hour for me to get there. Actually, my brother and I saw a Tornado just N. of Edward's Air-force base a few years ago while chasing. Pretty cool.

I am planning on a little vacation with my family the week of Aug.22 in the Tuscan area? Any hot spots there? We will be staying near Oro Az.. I would appreciate anyones thoughts..

Thanks so much,

Brian

~~~~

www.surfingthefront.com
In the Tucson Area:


There is a pretty good viewpoint at the Madera Canyon visitor's center. It offers sweeping views of the setting sun filtering behind the Sierrarita Mountains. http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/for...ader_cyn.shtml

More ambitious is driving Mt. Hopkins Road up the mountain. Stupendous views! The road is used by the telescope folks and is kept in excellent condition. Exit I-19 at Canona Rd south of Green Valley, head S along the eastern frontage road; turn E on Elephant Head Rd, then right at Mt. Hopkins Rd. Follow it as long as you like. There's a gate near the top, so you can't get to the observatories, however this spot is atop a ridge that offers great visibility to the E and SE. The mountain ranges cascade away for miles. http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/for..._hopkins.shtml

Another pretty place is the La Cienegas reserve, about 20 miles S of I-10 on hwy 83. The area is rolling grassland. The Santa Rita Range does tend to block the setting sun, so westerly viewing is poor. But the same sunset can create fantastic colors in any clouds/storms to the NE, E and S. http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm...scienegas.html

Kitt Peak has a great road and stupendous views in most directions.

Other popular Tucson areas include:

Gates Pass. Exit Speedway, drive W. till you hit the mountains.

Babad Do'ag overlook, a few miles up the Catalina Highway. Classic/cliche' view of storms over Tucson. There are more overlooks higher up, including one (forget the name) 3.5 miles past Windy Point that offers the only good view of the San Pedro Valley to the east. Hike a few 100 yards N from the parking lot to gain altitude and improve the view.

If you're up for a hike, Sabino Canyon holds great promise. With the right timing, fantastic storm/sunset/mountain shots should be possible. Bring an umbrella, or garbage bags at the least, to protect your gear in the event you get run over by the storms. Mountain Lion repellent is handy too!
 
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In the Tucson Area:
Kitt Peak has a great road and stupendous views in most directions.

Other popular Tucson areas include:

Gates Pass. Exit Speedway, drive W. till you hit the mountains.

Babad Do'ag overlook, a few miles up the Catalina Highway. Classic/cliche' view of storms over Tucson. There are more overlooks higher up, including one (forget the name) 3.5 miles past Windy Point that offers the only good view of the San Pedro Valley to the east. Hike a few 100 yards N from the parking lot to gain altitude and improve the view.

If you're up for a hike, Sabino Canyon holds great promise. With the right timing, fantastic storm/sunset/mountain shots should be possible. Bring an umbrella, or garbage bags at the least, to protect your gear in the event you get run over by the storms. Mountain Lion repellent is handy too!
Kitt Peak=soaring views, like being an eagle, however the mountain road to the top closes at 4pm :/ I was just there to look at the telescopes and noticed this. This is the type of road that makes spines tingle while driving up, it is a cliff with drop-off. A bald protruding perch, Kitt Peak would be a gnarly place to be at night, esp in a storm!

Gates Pass=excellent and there is also Old Tucson near there, the old movie set, as a possible western foreground for storms.

Babat Duag=one of the best Madrean sky island sweeping views. It is on the road to Mt. Lemmon. Be careful of becoming a CG target. Babat is an overlook on the side of a steep cliff. There is no protection from lightning, which strikes often. But on a clear day, you can see all the way into Mexico!

Sabino=beautiful, but be careful there of severe flash flood potential. Sabino has intoxicating beauty, but it is a rushing v-shaped water canyon, with mountain lions too. In the stream, you can see how large boulders have been relocated by the fresh broken clean rock surfaces. During monsoon, this would be the case. But still it is beautiful if someone could pull it off.

Tucson offers much beauty and history, one can combine with storms in the Old Pueblo.

You may also run into border patrol or checkpoints; I went through one the other day on Highway 19 between Tucson and Nogales and another one to the west by Kitt. I was far into the US side. They didn't delay me too much.
 
I do not know where the gate is, but the sign says 4pm. Maybe you can go up the road somewhat, but the other thing is, zero places to pull over, just sheer cliff the entire length of the road's edge. I don't remember any overlooks on that road at all.

Babat Duag over Tucson would be a better choice than Kitt I think-unless one could stay the night somehow up there. I wonder, propose a generous donation and see what they say? Although once up there, wow what a ride during a thunderstorm. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Here's an Internet picture of how open that mountain is on top http://www.astro.ff.vu.lt/stase/KittPeak/KittPeak.jpg If anyone wanted to chase up there, they would have to think strategically about where to shoot from. Maybe this layout could help with that: http://www.ccastronomy.org/photo_tour_Kitt_Peak.jpg

btw when I was recently there I found the exact spot where Gary Ladd took his famous 1970s electrified Kitt shot that ran in Natl Geo. He was indoors, on the landing of a stairway inside one of the telescopes. I went in there to see the scope, but alas, the vantage point revealed itself! If you did shoot lightning from up there, you'd have to find a protected area like he did. But technically, you could pull it off...
http://www.noao.edu/kpno/40th/stickers/lightning.gif
 
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