Monsoon Diary

A space for Monsoon news. Add your stories...

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6/2/04 McDowell Mountains, Moonhiking the Sonoran Desert

The sun went down, taking with it 15 degrees almost instantly. The drop is so obvious at twilight in wild, undeveloped areas. Cities change this, but I'm a ways out from the city. During the night the arid landscape will cool 15 degrees more. Every bit counts on a 106 degree day on the heels of summer Monsoon. I'm an avid moonhiker but with Monsoon due in early July, I double my hiking even more now as summer nights will soon be filled up with chasing lightning well into September.

Mouths drop, as my hiking companions and ranger guide stare at the spectacle, a full moon rising over the jagged Superstition range to the east. Big and orange like a basketball, it appears almost cartoonish in the pale blue sky. If only to have with me a 600mm lens and a few lightning bolts thrown in. Soon.

We pass by a flock of ravens perched atop a 40-ft saguaro. They are taking full advantage of the annual bounty of red cactus fruit. It is said that a raven is smart as a Labrador. All the desert animals will feast tonight, except for snake. He is in hiding. Rattlers negotiate the desert by heat sensing anyway, and seem to prefer hunting during New Moon when not so visible to the watchful eyes of surveying owls.

The desert floor sparkles in the moonlight. Our shadows are sharp and clear. The sky is sapphire blue and the mountain edges look drawn with calligraphy. Quail are running (they're always running), making the chaparral rustle as we walk by. Coyotes take up yipping in the night but the lesser nighthawks make no sound. The nighthawks come out in numbers this time of year, another harbinger of Monsoon. The desert is also home to bobcats, mountain lions and javalina (like peccary), and even small bear will stray from the high country once in a great while.

Iron silicates make the desert sand look wet, an illusion however, as there has not been rain here for weeks. Indigenous grasses, remnants that this was once a desert grassland, are abundant. It would be nice if they would choke out the exotic ones not welcomed, the foreign ones that made fuel for the Rio Fire of 1995. Lightning struck the desert, starting a blaze there on July 7 of that year, the typical first day of Monsoon. It was the summer the mountains glowed orange with flame, but purple with lupine the following spring.

Monsoon is only about a month away now, allowing me barely enough time to make a run to the Plains before the season begins. I'm looking forward to every part of Monsoon, from the shots I'm planning to the little things, like the aroma creosote bush makes in humidity. And of course, moonhiking. But plans are soft during storm season, you know how it goes. Happy June.

-Susan Strom, Arizona, United States
 
6/23/04 Sandia Chase

The idea was to hang out in New Mexico for as long as I could, storms were due in the afternoon in a slight-risk area. Its a matter of just days now before dewpoints creep up to 50s and above, giving the pulse-convection some sticking power. New Mexico tugs at the Monsoon a little earlier than Arizona, as the pre-season SW dry punch from the Baja is not such a factor. Fortunately, this annoying culprit loses ground as the Arizona summer creeps into July and the Mexican storm door opens, bringing lightning, wind and sometimes torrential rains. I love to see a flag with a SE wind.

Turning off I40 I pulled over in Tijeras, the first town along what New Mexicans call the Turquoise Trail, a windy, intriguing 50 mile drive along the Sandia Crest, the Land of Enchantment’s 10,678 ft sky island summit. Some kind of staghorn cholla up on the peak was blooming in magenta bouquets, setting off the sweeping views. Gray shadows moved from place to place, shifting the mountain’s color from rust to that vivid royal blue, the color of the window frames in Taos.

Although I get teased by fledgling towers a few times faithfully each year as the Monsoon kick-starts, I chase every event I can because you just never know if there might be a prolific lightning producer among the changing clouds. If there is one truth about chasing in arid lands, it is that even the pastoral-looking high-based cumulus can carry a charge.

Expectedly, rain starts hitting my windshield. The sky darkened. Suddenly, thunder crashed like God kick-starting a Harley. I remember that in the daytime, lightning looks so much less threatening than at night, although the danger is quite real. I’m at 8,000 feet, metal, on a pinon-studded slope with antennas on the roof. It would be foolish to think that a blade of grass would be sexier to a lightning bolt, or a stepped leader wanting to become one.

The storm strengthens, putting down CGs one after another like arrows. I head to a protected area to take my antennas down before going back out for photography. Daytime lightning is a longshot, but any kind of storm is fair game even if it is high noon.

The storm lasts for 45 minutes or so, then slips in tact down the backside of the summit. I pop in my new John Anderson CD which I bought in a truck stop in Kansas, crank it hard and head down the hill toward Madrid. On the way, another photo presents itself, the darkened mountain with the foreground of a passing Amtrak winding through the rugged hills. New Mexico is full of trains.

I wasn’t quite expecting the enigmatic town of Madrid, a former coal-mining town gone artist’s colony. I stop and talk to a guy dressed a bit like a prospector. He and his wife are ceramists, part of the town’s new lease on life. He seems to fit perfectly in the weathered, cliff-hugging town, which no doubt draws the weekend curious from Santa Fe. I figure that Madrid has to have a few ghosts of it’s own. Perhaps they hide out, in the storms on the Sandia Crest.

Map
http://www.turquoisetrail.org/map.htm
 
El Fuego...

6/30/04 - I thought I’d slip in another full moon hike just before Monsoon kicks in and starts taking up my time. Three miles into the desert trail, my hiking buddies and I caught a peculiar sight to the north. A glowing orange half-circle in the shape of a “C” was laying on the southern flank of the adjacent Mazatzal Wilderness, one of the ranges responsible for the sweeping views around here NE of Phoenix, Arizona.

The pre-Monsoon Willow Fire is laying down for the night, dotting the mountains like a curvy string of Chinese lanterns. I had forgotten how strange a desert fire looks on the steep slopes, yet natural in its own way, opening the door to fresh new plant life for the future seasons. The last desert fire I saw was 9 years ago, a product of one single CG.

I have been trying to a get a photo angle on this lightning-caused blaze for the last few nights. Orographic features have helped heat-powered thunderstorms develop over the mountains. Many daytime CGs have resulted, touching off mountain fires. Saturday night I shot the fire from the Mogollon Rim (an hour’s drive to alpine terrain). Tonight I drove a distance to try and frame up a shot from the desert side, and although the moonlight is generous and visibility is good, the fire is laying down in the light midnight breezes.

The Willow Fire is burning in the remote Mazatzal Wilderness in the Tonto National Forest. The Mazatzals are a fortress of sorts, a topo map of vertical ridges, rocky outcroppings and V-shaped canyons. Getting close enough to pull in a decent flame shot is proving difficult. The scale of Wiley Coyoteland is always bigger than it looks, and access roads are few.

The fire area encompasses a variety of elevations up to nearly 8,000 feet, with different terrains from desert to alpine. Last I checked local media tonight the fire was reported at 32,000 acres and 3% containment. Because of the extreme terrain, fortunately the Mazatzals themselves are very sparsely populated.

Monsoon is always welcome in conditions like these. The summer monsoon will bring the thunderstorms with a lot more precip punch than the dry lightning-producers (fire-starters) that build up on the mountains before the annual seasonal wind shift.
 
7/5/04 - Red Clay Moon

The Moon looked like a shard of red Hohokam pottery. Smoke from the Willow Fire in the Mazatzals was laying in the atmosphere, shrouding the waning gibbous Moon and weirdly revealing all the atmosphere’s inversion layers.

Around 1am, I drove to the only point I knew where I could see at least the southern edge of the fireline in the Tonto National Forest, just past the Bartlett Lake turnoff northeast of Carefree. From the Fountain Hills side, the flames are just out of view due to mountains and ravines, but the glow that makes the mesas look like distant volcanoes is obvious each night.

Past the McDowell Range and beyond Carefree, as I climb I notice the vegetation changes, thicker chaparral, ironwoods, and soaptree yucca and what looks like Spanish bayonet in bloom but it’s hard to tell in the smoky moon’s halflight. I can also see the entire Phoenix Valley of the Sun, a million lights far away. I get a fix on my elevation. A coyote crosses the road. "Got a mouse for me?", eyes glowing.

The desert fire still looks like a row of Christmas luminarias from my view, laying down in the wee hours of a 75 degree beautiful windless night. It sure looks like Vesuvius in the daytime though. This blaze has grown to a 80,000 acre phenomenon, with 900 firefighters now on the line, and I was only seeing a small shoulder of it as it is burning in extremely rugged terrain just north of where I was standing. As yet, I peek down into the darkness from where I parked, into a cavernous ravine, wondering just how these firefighters work their magic in such a tweaked landscape. Tuesday morning, the Beeline 87 highway I use every day will be closed just north of my town.

Fire is of course part of the natural ways, symbiotic and essential to forest life, but I can’t help but think… all this drama from one CG. What was it like in the West before people were here doing battle with blazes? Nature started them, let them work, then put them out with rains. Nutrients returned to the soil, creating new green growth so the wild animals could graze and feed their young in the springtime. The whole cycle.

Thunderstorms are due again this weekend over orographic features. Humidity will help and if any rain comes that will be a blessing. Everyone is just waiting for Monsoon. I hope the Beeline is open before Monsoon, it’s my direct access to the Rim. Otherwise I'll chase in the Superstitions and who knows where else.

Here is a map of the fireline:

http://www.fireteam-sw.com/whitney/willow/...n_1_MMDDYY.html

And the fire Web site:

http://www.fireteam-sw.com/whitney/willow/
 
Hoping for a real monsoon...

...instead of a non-soon. Last year was my first full summer back in Phoenix in 10 years, and at least in the heart of the city it was a pathetic showing. Only three storms came through, and only one of those was a real rocker. I hate the Heat Island... grrr... anyway, this year I'll have opportunity to chase down I-10.

Were you around in '84, when it was gloomy and drizzly, if not thundery, from mid-June on? Could sure use that now around Payson...
 
heart of the city

Oh yeah, those chasing PHX Metro may wait a long time indeed. PHX is a huge city with large heat island. I never chase there. Besides, I get kicked out of the mountains by police <sigh> Where is the room for artistic liberty? LOL

Stick to the outlying areas for sure, way better hunting ground. If you don't want to wander far from the Valley of the Sun, try Queen Creek, the San Tans, Peralta, AJ, New River, Fountain Hills to the northeast, Wickenburg out to the west, Florence to the southeast and climb a bit to areas like Superior or Four Peaks of the Mazatzals. You'll have good luck there, much more interesting terrain. It is way different out here.

Fly down the I10 in the evenings and hit the Central Deserts between Casa Grande and Marana or the 8 corridor and Gila Bend. No heat island whatsover, no one lives there LOL. Towns in the Central Deserts (the outback LOL) are spread far apart and can be a little rough though, a ranger recently told me that the Sheriff's car in Eloy is full of bullet holes. That, I believe. Keep your gas tank full and bring lots of water out there and watch for flooded roadways. Advantage there though that there is a 360 degree view of everything around and good truck stops at the I10/8 junction. I just stay out of the towns away from buildings, chasing more in the wilder areas toward Picacho and the Sawtooth range. Still though, the further south you go the more you have to watch for illegal border activity as well, such as border running and drugs. That's a whole other subject.

Depending on where you live, I recommend hitting the Verde Valley (storm alley) up I17 toward Prescott past Black Canyon City. As you climb, you won't have any trouble finding lightning there! See you there! LOL The terrain is extremely interesting and borderland issues are rare/too far north. That area gets very large hail at times too, and those storms can go warned on for rotation. Or try New River and north Cave Creek, near the Spur Cross recreation area. Watch for washouts there though with debris sometimes in the roadways.

Monsoon chasing is about driving in the mesoscale, at least it is for me, and even further distances, moving from place to place very quickly. I never stay in one place, but that's only my style. I'll work a storm until it's dying breath but generally don't chase in metro areas.

Try the Mazatzals too. Rugged but...very sweet, a favorite for me. And SE AZ has much to offer if you're up to driving a couple hours south. I could write for days about chasing near Willcox/Benson, Tombstone and the Chiricahua. I am so looking forward to this year. Good luck!
 
When I think of storm chasing, I imagine a slightly manic weather enthusiast rising at 4 AM to pore over dozens of atmospheric charts and forcasts. Our hero applies 'years of experience' to the flood of data, carefuly judges the most favorable location, then drives 12 hours to arrive in the nick of time...

My first formal lightning chase was somewhat more modest, a 50 mile round trip...:roll:

For the past week, Tucson has been drowned in a steady flow of hot, dry air flowing from the west. Although the shift to southern, monsoonal flow is 'due,' the professional tea leaf readers say we'll need to endure at least another 7~10 days of blazing heat before any chance of serious rain arrives.... ugh.

Anyhoo...
Last weekend (June 26), a tentative monsoon-ish flow brought the area enough moisture to allow thick cumulus to develop over the Rincon range, just East of town. After a spending the afternoon slowly building strength, the clouds had grown and were giving it their all, (a rather modest effort) popping occasional CG lightning onto the Tanque Verde Ridge area.

With a few hours to go before sunset, I decided to drive up to the Catalina Mountains in search of a better view, as well as the opportunity to breathe sub 100 degree air. My plan was to catch the warm evening light, filtering over the cloud covered Catalinas, as it illuminated the action in the Rincon area.

Halfway up the mountain, as the road climbs out of Bear Canyon, the southern view improves markedly. 'My' storm was still hovering over T.V. ridge, and the modest lightning activity had actually increased slightly. So far, so good. I again lost sight of the storm as the road turned North and climed higher. I decided to take Mt. Biggelow road and follow it as it wrapped around to the Southern side of the ridgeline. Without a proper map, I felt somewhat like a rat in a maze. After an 'exploratory' tour of the campground loop, I arrived at the radio tower complex.

The sun was low in the sky, and the light was starting to warm nicely. Puffy white clouds transitioned to subtle magenta and pink hues, while the sky darkened to a rich, hazy, purple. Everything was going swimmingly except for one minor detail - Mount Biggelow has a lot of trees, and a clean view to the SE was proving hard to find. I finally took off down the Butterfly trail, and, after a ~1/4 mile tromp, acquired an unobstructed view of my quarry. The light was sublime; distant clouds and mountains illuminated with crepuscular alpenglow streaming from behind me. Ah-Ha!!

After a few minutes, I slowly became aware of another, more serious, problem. :idea1: "Uhh...where's the lightning?" :scratch:
With the loss of solar heating (?) the brave little clouds had lost what little zap they once possesed...

The scene was still quite nice and I shot half a roll of chrome before closing darkness chased me back up the trail. Back at the antennae farm, I snuck up the fire watchtower and took a few more shots of the area before returning to the car. I took the slow route home, stopping at several locations for short midnight hikes, and didn't get back to the still-warm valley until 1am.

-Greg (Still waiting for the BIG storms.)
 
Stormchasing vs stormsitting

Oh, don't worry about me chasing in metro Phoenix, Susan. Although I'm usually tempted to head up 36th into the [Squaw Peak? Piestewa?] Mountain Preserve just to get panoraltitude, the city "chase" is not on my strategery list. My monsoon experiences were simply limited to enjoyment from the backyard as I'd be getting home from work too consistently late to chase, hence my disappointment at the number of inner-city storms. Plenty of time watching the radar last year clued me into some of the spots you mention; anything along SE I-10, Gila Bend/I-8, & Wickenburg seemed to get a ton of local action that does not involve mountain chasing.

You say Verde Valley storms can spin? Have you ever bagged a sculpted LP bellbottom here in AZ? :shock:

Seems to me that the recent AZ tornado reports I remember (all 3 of 'em) were on the plateau north of I-40. Any experience there?

Watching the precip creep up the Mexi-coast...
 
Out There

7/7/04 Marker Day

Willow Fire-wise, it looked like a bomb went off today.
100K, quarter contained.
Updates:
http://www.fireteam-sw.com/whitney/willow/

Today is July 7, the symbolic marker day for start of Monsoon. For the fire's sake as well, I'm glad July 7 is here, and have felt a change in the air for the last two days. The sky is cluttery with altocu and cirrus mare's tails, the humidity is up, the evening sky turns that oxidized copper teal color and it's hotter than a pistol. Flags today were pointing from a wind out of the SE.

My dad can tell when one of those howling winter gales is about to pound the Pacific coast in California. The sky will be clear but you know it's out there...because the waves are aggitated, crashing high on the headlands, as the blue sky is deceptively fair overhead. It's pastoral... temporarily. I have the same sense today. The Monsoon feels "out there".
 
Hey Joe,

One of the Avid editors for a local TV station told me about that spot just last year. I don't urban chase either but that overlook is pretty nice. Cops will kick ya out though when it's late. To tell you the truth though I have plenty of spots in the McDowells, Carefree, Troon, Peralta, Four Peaks, I'd rather use if the fur is flying locally LOL They're wilder, and I have a couple secret spots too (can't tell though...until I get my trophy shot there LOL, but I will say this, one has a view of Weaver's Needle). Then...there is the rest of Arizona LOL

The Verdes can get warned on once in awhile, have produced large hail also. That mini-prairie up there has the unobstructed views.

Yes, there was a tube near Winslow/Holbrook last year. And one in Needles a couple years ago. A few years back I chased a low-based that spawned 3 funnels as it moved from I10 to Queen Creek. The base was mushing the lightning down so it was horizontal. I have pictures of that. It's lightning I'm after, no matter which direction it goes...

Hey good luck this year... happy hunting!
 
Susan,
Not to distract from the topic, what are the dangers of chasing near the border? I've been to Nogales MX, but it was during the day and I was just getting ripped off on stupid trinkets to bring home to the fam, so the risk was rather low. For those that don't live near a border (I'm from suburban Chicago), you have no idea how bizarre it is to have an interstate highway blocked off for a border patrol checkpoint some miles north of the border - they're just looking for stowaways, not anything YOU might be doing!

Bullet holes in a sheriff's car up here would draw a SWAT team in short order. I can't imagine how the local law down there would be OK with that.

Rob
 
My impression after coming here is that you'll hear plenty of bad stories and rumors, but I'd be willing to think the danger is lower than most may think. Drug runners and coyotes don't want to see you and will likely avoid cars, etc, in the middle of the desert. Granted, there is an increased risk.

When I first came to NM, everyone told me to never drive to Columbus, NM via route 9 at night... It runs anywhere from a couple miles to a few hundred yards from the border. I've done it dozens of times since, and have never seen anything sketchy.

The biggest problem will likely be dealing with Border Patrol wondering what you're up to. I have no problem with this as long as they're friendly and don't ask me to "move along." If that ever happens, then we're going to have some problems...

Crawling around the desert roads out in South-Central NM I've come upon areas where there's tons of spent shells and busted beer bottles in the middle of nowhere. I'd be more worried about drunken Rednecks than illegal Mexicans.

Perhaps things are different out to Tuscon and near Nogales? We're supposedly along the most active drug/immigrant trading route here in El Paso. I've never been to Nogales, but have stopped in Agua Prieta and it seemed to be an impressively clean border town... not sure how much that reflects organized crime in the region.
 
Robert wrote:
Bullet holes

I was informed of it from a desert guide I have come to know and trust. However, when and how it took place I do not know. However, chasing in the Central Deserts doesn't bother me, mainly because I am careful and can see in all directions, and have rules I follow to stay safe. I will also split asap if I don't like what I see, and stay clear of the towns themselves.

On a related note, I'm glad you both brought up the border issue. Please know that Monsoon success does NOT in any way require trekking through Arizona borderlands. This is a huge state, with a wide range of choices for Monsoon vantage points at so many points north. However, in mid June I started writing a post about this very subject and will be posting it here in the next few days. I would have already but I was driving across country.

Valid points, thanks to both!
 
7/8/04 Numero Dos

Just rolled in from chasing iso-T's east of Tucson, second Monsoon chase this year (Sandia was the first). The season is just getting started! A few cells were only moderately charged but warranted a shoot. I did the I10 run but what a pleasure in the cool and breezy desert night, filled with the heady smell of chaparral when it rains. GV as the storms were, they were actually producing a some colored lightning, particularly reds. I only see that once in a while. The subtropical critters were out, even froggies (believe it or not). The desert buzzed with activity.

Roadside oddity #14: "Mr. T's Travel Plaza" on I10 (pity the fool who doesn't stop). Restaurant name at the same plaza "Omar the Highway Chef."
 
The Verdes can get warned on once in awhile, have produced large hail also. That mini-prairie up there has the unobstructed views.

Hi Susan,

Thanks for the monsoon diary. I love hearing what the weather is doing in the deserts. I've always enjoyed the deserts, and it's been there that I got my start in storm chasing.

On my first "chase vacation" (I say that in quotes because it was just a 3-day trip to Arizona in July, either 1998 or 1999, can't remember exactly which), we were hanging near Camp Verde watching storms basically on all sides of us, when my weather radio went off with a tornado warning! I had been dozing somewhat in the warm and slightly muggy air, but when that happened I was awake! :shock:

My friends and I held our position warily, and nothing happened to us. I can't remember if there was a tornado or not... guess I'll need to check StormData!

Jim
 
Right on...

If 1999 was the year you visited for Monsoon, a perfect choice. El Nino helped to provide 92 days of pattern. It was very sweet, I thought it would never end!
 
7/10/04 Willow on the Wane

At last check this morning the lightning-caused Willow Fire was 65% contained and some of the firefighters got some needed rest. I have to go up the road soon and see the newly blackened canyons. Humidity and dewpoints are up today, as the first surges of pre-Monsoon moisture make it into the State. It was a massive blaze but Nature puts them out this time of year. Nutrients have now returned to the soil, I wonder what the wildflowers will look like next year.
 
Friday 7/9/2004 - Near Nogales, AZ

Had my first away-from-home adventure of the year Friday. I left ELP around noontime Friday, stopped briefly in Benson before heading South towards Sonoita and Patagonia, where things seemed to be boiling up in the mountains by afternoon. Unfortunately, the convection stayed fairly weak, and by early evening I found myself in Nogales. The best storms were further SE over the mountains in NE Sonora, and though I was tempted, I decided against going down that way without further planning. Ideal trips south of the border will involve exploring the area during daylight hours, and knowing a good direct route back to a major highway as Mexican backgrounds can be dangerous at night with livestock, and vehicles with no headlights. I decided to save the $24 for a day's worth of auto insurance for later in the season. Even so, I photographed some dying cells to the SE and SW on some isolated ranch roads between Nogales and Kino Springs. Predictably, I ran into Border Patrol agents who simply cautioned me about the area's "traffic" but were surprisingly friendly. They said it was best to keep some sort of running lights in the vehicle on when stopped to keep away any trouble... 'if they see lights, they'll think you're us and stay away.'

The weakening storms, which were a good distance SE, looked impressive at sunset, but were "weakly charged" and I soon lost interest after dark. I headed back towards Tucson and spent the night parked at a trailhead parking lot in Saguaro West and wasn't interrupted at all during the night.


Saturday 7/10/2004 - Green Valley-Tucson-San Manuel, AZ
The day dawned with a rather boring sunrise in Saguaro NP... no clouds, and a desert winter-like harsh early morning light. Pretty disappointing. Decided to stay in the area today and hope for some upslope activity on the mountains east and south of town, along the I-19 corridor. Killed the early part of the day by exploring downtown Tucson, taking a few photos, and driving up to Sentinel Peak. Cu was forming in the higher elevations all around, and looked more promising than the previous day. It appeared like the best storms of the day were forming on the Santa Ritas, so I headed south towards Green Valley to get a closer look. These storms were moderately charged, but there was still too much light, and not enough lightning for daytime photos, though I tried (could only get exposures down to 1 sec with ND filters). There were plenty of impressive rainshafts in all quads, and took a few shots despite poor foreground (a new Yuppie Subdivision being built off White House Canyon Road.) Storm were firing up all around, probably along the Tumacacoris and the San Cayetanos, and were slowly moving north, so I headed back towards Tucson via Business-19, and soon intersected what had become a fairly impressive outflow boundary. By the time I got to Tucson, things had become overcast, with the storms to the south bringing in cool outflow air. I still had a few hours before any good light, so I was faced with a decision. Head NW and set up somewhere in the Silver Bell Mountains looking East towards Tucson and hope something fires up over there by dusk, or head NE out of town on a relatively obscure road through Tanque Verde Canyon and hope to find some storms by dusk near San Manuel north of Tucson.

I picked the latter, which may have been a mistake in terms of lightning photography, as there did seem to be some storms north of me the whole time driving up this road that I simply couldn't get a good vantage point on that might have been visible from the Silver Bell Mountains... but in the end, I think it was the best decision overall due to the unexpected results. This road was much slower than I expected, so sunset occurred when I was just north of "Redington" (just a placename on the map). However, the sunset light was filtered through dying convection to my North and West and cast the most unbelievably beautiful light on the surrounding mountains and hillsides, turning desert rocks into strange earth-toned pastels, making for some powerful silhouettes against the thousands of Saguaro cacti all over this area. A few strikes of lightning to the north, and the rumbles of thunder punctuating an otherwise dead silent landscape just added to the surreal nature of the whole affair. The lightning to the north was not frequent enough to warrant ditching my sunset photos. Still, the photographs I took this day made the whole trip worth it, whether I saw any lightning or not.

Eventually, I made it back to Tucson, showered, and spent the night at the Triple T truckstop. Showers $8... rating a C+. Not the cleanest facility in the world, and more expensive than the average truckstop shower... still it is a independently-owned facility, and the only game in town unless you want to travel to Benson or Eloy. Also, they are on truckstop.net.


Sunday 7/11/2004 - Gila Wilderness, NM

Felt like there was a good chance of storms in SE AZ again on Sunday, but figured a change of Venue might not be a bad idea. Original thought was to head back to ELP then perhaps catch storms firing up on the Sacramento Mtns of NM, but past experience tells me that these storms tend to pop up the earliest, and stabilize the air surrounding the region by evening. Last week's fun (two weeks ago??) featured storms firing in the mountains first, with colliding outflows over the lowlands producing storms towards dusk. So, I decided to take a slow road home through the Gila Wilderness, perhaps get some daytime shots of storms in the mountains, then hopefully catch an evening show in the Valley.

Unfortunately, I took a really slow road. Headed north on 191 in AZ, and followed this road to Three Way, AZ where I picked up AZ-78 which followed some incredible terrain and overlooks into Mule Creek, NM. Headed north on US-180 from there to Glenwood, topped off on fuel, then headed East on NM 159 through some more incredible terrain with off-road paths leading to beautiful overlooks, into the awesome little "ghost town" of Mogollon. Beyond Mogollon, the road follows a steep, wooded canyon which other than realizing the huge flash flood potential the area has, was otherwise boring. I picked up FR142 (called Loco Mtn road in DeLormes) through more and more thickly wooded terrain, past Snow Lake, all the way to NM59, which I followed all the way to Winston, NM. By now it was dark. I'll never drive that road past Mogollon again... just boring dense forests. Might as well have been in northern Maine. There were some very distant storms off to the NE that I could see some flashes of lightning from, but there were no favorable horizons, and the lightning was relatively sparse. So I headed towards Truth or Consequences, NM, and then home for the night.

I still need to catch up on what actually happened around here the past few days by looking at radar archives, etc. Looks like Sunday would have been better spent in Tucson, and there was some activity here on Saturday as well.

Today looks like we have our friendly easterly wave moving into central Chihuahua, with a thin region of drier air and subsidence out ahead of it. Things are already popping in SE AZ and in the Gila Wilderness, but interestingly, nothing much in the Sacramentos. Looking at the 18z soundings from the region (NAME IOP #2 in effect), you can clearly see the drier air aloft in EPZ and ABQ, but things are nice and moist points SW and also east. Note the nicely saturated sounding in MAF. Water Vapor shows mid/upper level moisture beginning to come back into SE New Mexico, so perhaps the thin region of drier/subsident air out ahead of this wave will act to just delay convection in the Sacs to a more favorable time for photography, with deeper moisture coming back in my late afternoon/early evening? I might head east on US-70 later on, perhaps finding some luck either near White Sands or on some of my favorite spots west of High Rolls on the US82...

(Admins, this whole thread might belong in Storm Reports, but I don't think there'll be a heck of a lot of forecast posts or reports posts for each individual day, so perhaps it is good to have a generic "Monsoon" / lightning photo thread?)

Happy monsoon everyone!

-Mike
 
Upon further review...

It looks like Saturday was most active in the ELP area. Storms fired up early in the terrain out in Hudspeth County, with some weak early storms in the Sacs and San Adreas Mtns. Hudspeth storms sent a nice outflow westward, which collided with outflows spreading from storms in Chihuahua and in Luna County, NM, and led to some pretty potent storms from just north of Deming southward to the Mexican border. These might have had some photo opportunities, depending on how much lightning they were dropping.

Seems like most of the storms this weekend, including yesterday in AZ have been relatively weak and short-lived, and from what I saw, did not produce a heck of a lot of lightning.

Two weeks ago, the early storms were the same way, weak, short-lived, and not "charged." That changed on the last 3-days of weather before drier air came in from the west...

Is this typical of early monsoon storms?
 
What a difference a day makes!

Wow! Things really lighting up now with a LOT of lightning showing up along the Mogollon Rim from North of Phoenix circling back to the mountains north of Tucson... also lots of strikes in a line, probably along some terrain from near Lukeville, AZ and Sonoita, SO arcing SSE'ward into SO. Lighter activity along the Sierra Madre South of the NM Bootheel, and finally things beginning to pop in the Sacs, but little in the way of lightning strikes. I'll probably head out that way in a bit and take a gamble. Good luck to Susan and any other AZ photographers... and this is still before any true influence from the Easterly Wave in Chihuahua. Hopefully things will stay lit through evening for you guys!
 
Mike wrote:
so perhaps it is good to have a generic "Monsoon" / lightning photo thread?)

It is my hope that Monsoon Diary does stay intact as one thread...I wouldn't want to see it broken up. Thanks...

Mike, it sounds like you're covering a lot of ground and having some luck too...Thursday night was also decent in Tucson and I caught some lightning there in the deserts past the city limits. SE AZ is a good spot for the lion's share when the Monsoon is just getting started. As it gets later into July the towers have some sticking power but more importantly the alpine storms create the needed outflow boundaries so the deserts can get in on the party at night. Happy hunting & I'll probably pass you on the road! LOL
 
Mon-finally here!

Won't be chasing this week (hopefully next), but it was soooo nice to drive home at 6:30 on Washington St. as the dust front blew thru. Best of luck to all AZ chasers in the next couple days/months (fingers crossed there).
 
Well, while things looked impressive earlier this evening, things died down rather rapidly in SE AZ towards nightfall again.

Stuff never got going over the Sacs either, but I did manage to shoot a few frames of some storms from the desert out near Santa Teresa, NM, looking north at lightning about 100 miles away near Truth or Consequences. Lightning from this far away has been tricky for me to capture in the past as I've always tended to underexpose things... this time I upped the ante and went with some very long (5-10 minute) exposures at f/5.6 using both ISO 100 and 400 film... we'll see what turns out!
 
Things were decent in PHX - after I hit the sand wall on I10 around 6:30pm, the haboob passed and behind it was lightning over South Mountain. The pattern is active for the week.

For those who might be curious, on this Skywarn page there is a picture of haboob, typical in Arizona. Haboob is a Sudanese name for violent wind/sand storm like the one that came through Phoenix lastnight. They also occur in the Sahara.

http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/Phoenix/general/skywarn/
 
Alas, the progs still look pretty weak for the Monsoon for most of AZ except maybe the extreme south. In fact it's possible we may not yet technically have the Monsoon yet. I think we have to hold average dp 55 today and tomorrow for the official start. Have my fingers x'd.
 
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