Reflections on the Southwest’s Monsoon Season

September 28, 2023

RayB_TeapotLk289c_01aug23 (002)

Photographer: Ray Boren

Summary Author: Ray Boren

Midday cumulonimbus clouds were billowing above when this photograph was taken, on August 1, 2023, as I hiked around high Teapot Lake (elevation: 9930 feet/3027 meters), in northeastern Utah’s Uinta Mountains. The lake’s mirror-like surface presents an upside-down specular reflection of the beautiful but somewhat threatening sky, and, at the image’s top, a fringe of evergreen pines lining the shore. Thunder rumbled among the nearby mountain peaks, and then scattered raindrops hurried me to the shelter of my vehicle, waiting beside the Mirror Lake Scenic Highway. Within a half hour rain began pelting down. Thunderstorms like this develop when the late-summer monsoon season arrives in the southwestern United States. 

The word “monsoon” comes to us from an Arabic word, “mausim,” which means season, the U.S. National Weather Service explains. Centuries ago, mariners trading along the Arabian and Indian coasts observed the seasonal shifting of oceanic monsoon winds that propel helpful but sometimes torrential rains toward thirsty subcontinental Asia, particularly India. 

After decades of debate, climatologists determined that North America, too, has a definitive monsoon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says research substantiates the complex phenomenon, which involves wind and rainfall patterns that set up during the heating of the day in summer, at first over Mexico, before migrating northward to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, western Texas and beyond.

 

Teapot Lake, Utah Coordinates: 40.6805, -110.9428

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