Monday, July 9, 2007

Is It? Or Isn't It? The North American Monsoon

In the early mornings, moisture has been hugging the tops of the Sandias. And on some mornings, there is a Great-Smokey-like haze above the trees.

Is it? Or isn't it?

The monsoon, I mean.

At this time of the year New Mexicans are eagerly asking the question.

And of great concern is the unspoken question: Will it fail? Being somewhat superstitious, New Mexicans are loath to voice this question lest it reveal to the Coyote Angel, the trickster, that we have no faith. When the monsoon fails, our resevoirs drop, our crops dry out and wild fires abound.

The clouds have been gathering in the mid-to-late afternoons.

We have had thunder and lightning and showers almost every evening this past week. But is it? Or isn't it?

Sometimes, we are wooed by thunderstorms made from gulf-moisture coming in from the east, but the great northerly flow of moist air brought from the Pacific by the summer tradewinds does not take hold.

That happened a lot during the great drought of the 1990's. I remember having "rain parties" in 1996, to celebrate what we thought was the return of the summer monsoons--only to see them fail so that by the next summer, I could walk across the Rio Grande at my field sites without hardly getting my boots wet.

The New Mexican monsoon is a fickle creature.

The monsoon happens thus:

  • a steady flow of low-level moist air comes up from the south
  • the Colorado Plateau mountains warm up with summer insolation and draw the moist air to us
  • the rising warm air lifts the moisture up into the atmosphere, creating the thunderheads that drop the summer rains.

This monsoonal flow mechanism is the same one that causes the torrential summer monsoons in India and also the southern hemispere summer monsoons on Australia's northern provinces. In India, the towering heights of the Hymalayas make for a most spectacular monsoon. Ours is nothing like that. But we count on the moisture we do get, just the same.

So we every afternoon as the thunderheads form, and winds smell moist, and the lightning arcs to ground, we go outside, look up at the sky and ask each other:

Is it? Or isn't it?

It may be building, but the steady flow of moisture from the south has not started--yet.

So it isn't. Yet.

It is the start of the summer thunderstorm season.

And everyday that the clouds build, we'll look hopefully to the south.

Waiting for that happy day when the question becomes: Is it?

And the answer is: Yes.

From our mouths to G-d's ear!


denise said...

Your images and thoughts remind me of the years I lived in New Mexico - some days I really miss it, and almost can smell the air, see the Milky Way, picture the BIG sky and the storms that you can see coming all afternoon. Ahh.

steph said...

I feel parched and the fire danger "high" sign at the Sandia Ranger Station makes me cringe. We haven't even had the little bit of rain you mentioned out our way, so things are starting to beg for water. And after this past winter, too! What the heck?

Hmmm...I wonder how we can catch that trickster and make him pay up? We paid our dues with all the snow!

Amie said...

PFR - praying for rain

Lill said...

Would that I could give you some of our Maine rain. We're starting to feel fungaliferous, if that's a word. I hope your monsoon arrives soon and your parched Sandias get watered.

Shine On,