Monday, April 27, 2009

Storms and Seasons

#6 From what direction do winter storms generally come from in your region?

This question in the "Where You At?" series (see April 10th intro., "Agua Dulce") clearly comes from a climate other than the Sonoran Desert. "Winter" and "storm" don't really go together down here. But if you want to see some really phenomenal summer storms, come visit in July through mid-September when the monsoon season kicks in. Huge piles of cumulonimbus bring moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and Sea of Cortez, erupting into massive downpours and lightning storms that are awe inspiring entertainment for any skywatcher.

What the question is really getting at is assessing one's awareness of general weather patterns where we live. When I moved to Phoenix 7 years ago (Yikes! Seven years!) the notion of seasons, as well as weather patterns, was transformed for me. Having lived all of my previous life in four season climates with leafy falls, snowy winters, and balmy summers, moving to Southern Arizona was like landing on a different planet.

Here we are blessed with five seasons, according to "A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert," published by the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. Here they are:

1. We have fall, or so it is called, in late September through November. But our falls have very little color, since the landscape is mostly lacking in deciduous trees. It's more of a dry break between the torrential summer season and the drizzley winter. You can actually plant a veggie garden in September to harvest sometime in December. Snowbirds arrive.

2. Winters are mild with gentle rains blowing in from the west and northwest in December through mid-February, if we are lucky. These are the rains that set us up for spectacular wildflower displays come spring.

3. Springs are pretty dry, from late February through April. A blissful time of year when nights are cool and days are warm. Once the soil warms up, you can plant a second season of veggies to harvest in June.

4. Dry Summer starts in May, when things heat up into the 100's. By mid-June it is pretty much time to put the veggie garden to rest until September, because it is so hot and dry. Sane people migrate north to more reasonable climates.

5. And then we have the fifth and most famous Wet Summer or Monsoon Season that drenches the desert with torrents and flash floods. Winds that knock over hundreds of trees. These are the leftovers of hurricanes that devastate communities closer to the ocean. Even though it is hotter than heck, this is the most vibrant of Sonoran Seasons, the one that defines the region, the season of myths and legends. Our stormy season.

I think about this seasonal awareness every year when the schools and stores dutifully decorate for each according to, not the local five season reality, but the four season climate of northern deciduous forests that is defined by fall leaves, winter snowflakes, spring bunnies, and summer flowers and flip-flops. In summer here, the flowers are dried to a crisp. There is no snow. We do have plenty of spring bunnies, but we wear flip-flops all year round. That's where I'm at!

Bring on the summer. I'm going to Colorado!

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