2017 will be my 5th Time Chasing the Arizona Monsoon having been before in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Arizona has quite a unique climate getting affected by Monsoon moisture during the months of June to September. Also the unique mix of desert floor and mountainous areas with the Mogollan Rim cutting through the middle of Arizona helps with Orographically driven Storms on most days. Monsoon Storms typically run SE-NW or East to West or even ENE-SW depending on the Upper steering flow. A good thing to look out for when seeing an active Pattern is a Surface High pressure over the 4 Corners region of AZ/NM/UT/CO. Another decent thing to see is a Low Pressure over near Nevada or California. Like Tornado Season Arizona has active and rest patterns these are known as Burst or Break modes. Temperatures can easily hit between 110-120f in July and August around the Phoenix and Tucson areas and dewpoints can also respond into the Mid 60’s. Much lower temperatures are found around Flagstaff where temperatures typically climb into the 70-80f range on most days.
When chasing we concentrate on 6 main areas in Monsoon season.
The first area is SE Arizona around the Tucson to Benson and Tombstone areas, terrain is mix of desert floor, farmland and mountains which afford decent backdrops for Storms. The Catalina Foothills at the bottom of Mount Lemmon are stunning with Cactus aplenty on the winding roads up to the Summit which is 9000ft asl. We have many viewpoints if we are chasing in this area with “A” Mountain and Windy Point being just a few!
The 2nd area for Storms is when storms do not make it out of the Mountains and onto the Desert Floor and it is not uncommon for us to spend a day in the Mountains looking for decent Lightning East of Phoenix, the main round out is Highway 60 past the Superstition Mountains and onto places like Globe, Superior and Top-Of-The-World! This type of chasing is much more challenging but if thats all that is on offer then we will gladly chase in these areas, the views if anything are stunning.
The 3rd Main area is Casa Grande to Phoenix Metro and out to Gila Bend. In these area you will most likely find Haboobs from Thunderstorm Complexes that move North West from the Tucson area, the leading edge and Outflow pick up lots of dust and sand and create Powerful Sandstorms. Lightning can also be prolific with Storms moving into the 110f heat in these areas. Again lots of viewpoints are noted in this area including South Mountain near Phoenix.
The 4th Area is along the Mogollan Rim north of Phoenix, the Interstate 17 Highway climbs very high going Northbound towards past Black Canyon City towards Camp Verde. Once atop the Rim roads lead you East to Payson or West to Prescott and the ghost town of Jerome and scenic Wickenburg. Again we have some amazing viewpoints around these locations incuding Peoples Valley and Sunset Point.
The 5th area we chase is Sedona to Flagstaff and the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon areas, we tend to make this is day trip due to distances involved getting back to the base hotel. From the stunning Sedona and its Red Rocks we rise even higher towards the Pine Forests of Flagstaff. West to Williams and then North on Highway 64 to The Grand Canyon is a stunning drive. Chasing here is once again challenging and its not uncommon for overnight temps to fall into the low 50’s even in August.
The 6th area we chase is the far SW Corner of Arizona from Why to Yuma. This is total desert with cactus and sand dunes aplenty. Sunsets here are incredible and if you get a storm into the mix the colours you can see are out of this world.