FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Across the Southwest, people are longing for seasonal rainstorms like a lost summer romance.
They’re declaring their love online for the weather pattern that makes the scorching heat somewhat bearable in places like Phoenix and Las Vegas, and helps snuff out wildfires. They’re peering out their windows for signs of storm clouds rolling in and calling sprinkles of rain a tease.
“I miss it,” Flagstaff teacher Diane Immethun said wistfully. “I miss the joy of it, the feeling of the rain at night sometimes, not always, just hearing it on the roof, and the thunder and lightning in beautiful skies, gorgeous sunsets.”
The monsoon season, characterized by a shift in wind patterns and moisture being pulled in from the tropical coast of Mexico, arrives like clockwork in mid-June and runs through September. Usually it means rain but not much has fallen this summer and the Southwest is parched.
The Flagstaff airport usually logs nearly 5.5 inches of rain by now has only seen one-fifth of that – the driest in 120 years. Las Vegas has barely recorded any rain. The city of St. George, Utah, had zero rain in July and August – far from the average 1.25 inches.
The dryness stretching across the Four Corners has hydrologists worried, although many places are still above-normal for precipitation because of a wet winter.
“I’ve heard the joke calling it the ‘nonsoon’ and that’s really what we’re seeing,” said Royce Fontenot, a senior hydrologist with the weather service in Albuquerque.
But people are not giving up hope.
Forecasters say some relief could come this week. The flirting started Tuesday as clouds began to build and thunder rumbled over some spots.
Meris Carmichael wants to lure the rain to Arizona in a tongue-and-cheek way. She has been encouraging people to wash their cars – a perverse weather promise to ruin a shiny auto exterior with muddy raindrops. She also suggests scheduling an outdoor gathering because Murphy’s Law has been known to bring inclement weather at the worst possible time. She’s even hoping some call on the powers of the legendary vortexes in Sedona.
“All those things guarantee it’s going to rain,” Carmichael quipped.
The experts are offering their assurances, too.
“It’s not unheard of to have a wetter September, so it’s certainly possible,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jaret Rogers.
“It will come,” said Tiffany Davila of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
The summer rains usually account for the biggest percentage of moisture the desert regions get in a year. In mountainous Flagstaff, rainfall helps late-blooming wildflowers like black-eyed Susans flourish.
Without the rain, the threat of wildfires lingers, lake levels decline and outdoor plants need more TLC.
At the same time, the region is recording record high temperatures. The National Weather Service issued heat watches and warnings for parts of Nevada and Arizona this week with some places offering cooling stations for the homeless. Pet owners have been warned their furry friends’ paws suffer on hot sidewalks.
School recess is best indoors. Air conditioners run non-stop.
In Las Vegas, at least one person is gambling the odds are about to change.
“I fully expect a tropical hurricane to hit the city in September,” said marketing executive JC Martin.
Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque and Michelle Price in Las Vegas contributed to this story.