To date, there have been few thunderstorms in Southern Arizona. However, El Niño could bring storms in late August.

File photo by Randy Metcalf/Tucson Local Media

Although it is technically monsoon season, there has been nothing more than scant traces of rain. If the National Weather Service’s projections are accurate, Southern Arizona may not see a lot of rain in July either.

However, local fire officials say that is no reason not to be prepared for when the afternoon storms finally do roll in.

According to the National Weather Service, July is expected to be average to below average in total rainfall, but August and September could be wetter than normal thanks to El Niño.

“The forecast is calling for a slow start to things in July,” said Ken Drozd, the warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tucson. “There are indications it could pick up in August and September.”

The cause of the wetter end to monsoon season is El Niño, which is above-average surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific, specifically off the coast of Mexico. “Technically for it to be an El Niño, the average temperatures have to be over half a degree Celsius threshold for five consecutive three-month periods.”

Although an El Niño does not necessarily mean that things will be wetter, this year they are projecting more storms off the coast of Mexico and Central America, and the remnants from those storms should bring more moisture than normal to Southern Arizona. The El Niño conditions, as well as projected shifting winds, could mean the storms winds, could mean the storms come further north before they dissipate.

Winds are still moving west to east, which does not allow for a monsoonal type situation. Easterly or southerly winds, which are expected later in the summer, do allow storms to form and can help bring that moisture up from Mexico.

Prior to that, it should remain hot and dry, which means dust storms could be an issue. Even if it is drier than average, one quick storm could dump enough water on a part of town to create a flash flood.

“Even in dry river beds, in an area where it is not raining, can transform into a raging river in a matter of seconds,” said Tracy Koslowski, the public education/information manager and Fire Marshal for the Drexel Heights Fire District. “Water is a powerful force and when it gets moving it will take out whatever is in its pathway.”

“The storms we get have a lot of water in them,” added Drozd. “They can drop one inch of rain in 20 minutes and that water has to go somewhere.”

Preparation is a key to storm season and before the storms hit is the best time to prepare for the monsoons.

Adam Goldberg, the public information officer for the Northwest Fire District, suggests creating a storm kit for one’s home in case the power is lost for an extended time.

“Food, water and lights,” are what Goldberg says should be in every kit. He said that enough nonperishable food and fresh water to last 48 hours is ideal. He also suggests having flashlights; battery-operated lanterns are best. One thing he stressed is that people should not use candles.

“Candles are a fire risk,” Goldberg explained. “People fall asleep with them still burning and that can lead to a fire.”

Having an emergency kit in your car is also a good idea. Koslowski also suggests making sure you have fresh water, a first aid kit and a spare tire. She also said new windshield wipers might be a good idea this time of year.

“We also don’t tend to think about windshield wipers until we need them,” Koslowski reminded. “Replace worn, cracked ones before the rain season starts.”

Planning ahead could also be a lifesaver this time of year. Goldberg says people should pay close attention to weather reports and plan their activities accordingly.

“Don’t go rock climbing at 2 on a day it is projected to storm,” Goldberg said, stressing that common sense is the way to go.

“You should know how dangerous these storms can be,” Goldberg added. “Lives have been lost to flooding. We have to respect Mother Nature.”

Avoid driving during storms; in fact, avoid doing anything outside during storms. Even if you don’t see lightning, it does not mean it is not present. Once you hear the first rumble of thunder, lightning is a risk and you should try to get indoors, or at the very least inside your car, which, like the house, is grounded.

“Plan outside activities early in the day,” Goldberg suggested.

Planning alternate routes or allowing yourself more time to get somewhere is also key to monsoon season. There are many places all over town that can get flooded, so having another path home is important. On days it storms, giving yourself that extra time can be key. Even if an area does not flood, you can still have storm damage, especially to trees and wooden power poles.

Of course, you should avoid arroyos and washes. Even if there is seemingly no rain in the area and no water currently in the wash, a flash flood can hit in a manner of seconds.

“You always have areas that get dumped on a lot and can get flash floods in a manner of seconds,” Drozd said.

The best way to survive monsoon season, whether it is the dry July or the wet August and September, is common sense. Those who have lived through a monsoon season or 30 know what to expect. Even those who are new to Southern Arizona should be able to figure out what is a good idea, and what is foolish.

“The best thing to help make it through monsoon season is common sense,” Goldberg said.

That and a little planning can keep you safe during the monsoons.

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