Monsoons in the desert

Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland

A monsoon approaches Luke Air Force Base Aug. 8, 2016. From June 15 until Sept. 30, strong storms affect Luke with heavy rain, lightning, thunder and dust storms.

From June 15 until Sept. 30, strong storms, known as the North American Monsoon System, darkens the skies, peaking between mid-July and mid-August.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, monsoons are caused by warm air creating surface low pressure zones that draw moist air from the oceans, usually the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California. The winds shift from the West to the Southeasterly which increases the moisture fueled by the Gulfs combined with the surface low pressure from the desert heat to produce “bursts” or heavy rainfall in cycles and “breaks” or reduced rainfall.

The Southeasterly winds can trigger dust storms known as haboobs, which can blanket an area and roll over Phoenix like a wave several thousands of feet high.

“Pay attention to your phone,” said Airman First Class Kendall Griffin, 56th Operations Support Squadron weather technician. “The National Weather Service will put out an alert every time something severe may happen like a haboob or potential flood or anything of that nature. It will tell you when and what is forecasted. If you are driving pull over and shut off all your lights.”

Griffin stresses the importance of awareness in storms and other inclement weather situations.

“Arizona is not the best area for ground absorption of water so the potential for flooding in a heavy downpour is very high. Try not to drive when that happens and watch for signs of flooding. Do not try to drive through a flood. Pay attention to the environment and the alerts on your phones.”

Rainfall from monsoons are considered the waters of life for the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Utah. The rains replenish the basin groundwater and can give way to the growth of wild flowers, summer grass, plants and shrubs. This growth helps to sustain domestic and desert wild life throughout the region according to

Monsoons can be produce heavy pockets of rain, thunder and lightning which can become a very dangerous situation.

Remember these safety tips from for driving in dust storms.

Pull Aside, Stay Alive!
* LIGHTS OUT! In the past, motorists driving in dust storms have pulled off the roadway, leaving lights on. Vehicles approaching from the rear and using the advance car’s lights as a guide have inadvertently left the roadway and in some instances collided with the parked vehicle. Make sure all of your lights are off when you park off the roadway. Honk your horn often.
* Never stop on the traveled portion of the roadway. gives these safety tips for monsoon preparedness:
Scanning the skies 360 degrees around and overhead before leaving a safe location

If you are caught in a monsoon, take the following flood safety tips:
* Driving around barricades is illegal and dangerous.
* Do not let children play near storm drains or washes after a heavy rain.
* Avoid low-water crossings.
* Be especially cautious at night. Flood dangers are much more difficult to see in the dark.
* Do not attempt to cross flowing streams.
* If flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes, etc.
* If your vehicle is suddenly caught in rising water, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.

When in doubt, wait it out, or find a safer route.

Monsoon season can be beautiful but dangerous and can affect many things including the mission at Luke.

“Monsoon season is one of the most challenging times here at Luke,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Kellner, 56th OSS NCOIC of airfield services. “It is challenging for the mission because of all the limiting factors affecting aircraft such as wind speed and lightning. We keep in contact with air control to help keep the mission going.”

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