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Monsoon set to ramp up across Southwest

The North American monsoon is set to bring much-needed rainfall across the Desert Southwest this week amid a relatively late start to the monsoonal season in many locations across the region.

"Enhanced shower and thunderstorm activity across the Southwest is expected this week as moisture is drawn into the region from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty explained.

As the Northwest continues to bake under a record-shattering heat wave, the Southwest could see some heat and drought relief throughout the week.

The monsoon season officially started on June 15 across the southwestern United States, but many cities are currently suffering from a severe drought that has gripped the region for most of 2021. Las Vegas, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Tucson, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, are just a few cities that have been drought-stricken since the start of spring.

Since March 20, Las Vegas has only picked 4% or 0.02 of an inch of its normal 0.46 of an inch of rain.

Phoenix has also been under an exceptional drought since the start of spring, where only 26%, or 0.18 of an inch, of its average of 0.70 of an inch of rain has fallen.

Much of the Southwest has faced similarly dismal precipitation amounts, and drought conditions continue to worsen as a result. In Arizona alone, all of the state is considered to be abnormally dry, with nearly 60% of the Grand Canyon State in an exceptional drought, the highest level of drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

In fact, nearly 80% of the western U.S. is in the grips of severe drought and more than 25% of the region is facing exceptional drought.

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Due to the excessively dry ground across the Southwest, temperatures have been allowed to soar into the triple digits across the region over the past few days. When the ground is dry, more of the sun's energy heats the ground and lower portions of the atmosphere. On the other hand, when the ground is wet, less of the sun's energy is available for heating as it is used during the evaporation process.

But heat and drought relief is set to move into the Southwest this coming week as the monsoon kicks into gear.

"A combination of a stalled-out front and an influx of moisture from the broad circulation of Enrique along with a push of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California this week will result in widespread shower and thunderstorm activity across the Southwest," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brandon Buckingham said.

Thunderstorms are expected to spread across much of the Four Corners region through midweek. During the afternoon hours, thunderstorms will be most numerous as they pop up across the high terrain and drift into the lower valleys.

A combination of the extremely parched ground across the Southwest and thunderstorms that will be capable of producing gusty winds and dust storms, known as haboobs, may impact places like Phoenix and Tucson.

Visibility can rapidly drop to near zero and practically turn day to night in the most intense haboobs. Motorists must be cautious for these events when traveling.

Any intense downpour from a thunderstorm could cause streams or dry creek beds, known as arroyos, to rapidly fill with dangerously fast-flowing water.

"While the rainfall will be extremely beneficial across the Southwest, there will still be a risk of dry lightning strikes that could spark up new wildfire activity," Buckingham explained.

Dry lightning occurs when there is a dry air mass at the surface where rain falling from a thunderstorm evaporates prior to hitting the ground. Even though the rain does not reach the ground, lightning will still travel to the surface. This can be especially concerning because these thunderstorms can often contain strong wind gusts that could quickly fan the flames of a wildfire.

In their annual summer forecast released back in April, AccuWeather long-range forecasters called for an uptick in moisture and thunderstorms associated with the monsoon in early July that will last into September, periodically sparking flash flooding and dust storms while also delivering beneficial rainfall to the region.

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"Although the monsoon this year will be much more active than last summer, it may be far from one of the wettest on record. It is not likely that enough precipitation will fall to erase the long-lasting drought conditions," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.

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2 comments on this story

Jun 29, 2021, 7:00 pm
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brenro, the National Weather Service abandoned the three days of 54/55-degree dew points metric years ago, and in 2008 began setting the onset of the monsoon here on June 15 rather than using any weather calculation.

Jun 29, 2021, 5:18 pm
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There is no official date for the start of the North American monsoon. It begins when the dew point reaches at or above 54 degrees for three days in a row.

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