The monsoon: Prepare for the unpredictable - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

The monsoon: Prepare for the unpredictable

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Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 6:00 am

Are you ready?

The monsoon season again is upon us, but to what extent this summer will we see strong winds, heavy rain, flash floods, and those dusty haboobs?

“There are no strong signals or indicators to predict what kind of monsoon season we will have,” said Mike Bruce, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “People want to look at statistics to find patterns, and you really can’t.”

From now until early September, Arizona could be in for a range of monsoon weather — from scattered light showers to destructive hail and wind.

Monsoon is a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, and the term is used to describe seasonal changes in precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea. Usually, the term monsoon is used to refer to the rainy phase of a seasonally-changing pattern, although technically there is also a dry phase.

Sunday marked the beginning of Monsoon Awareness Week, and numerous agencies are getting the word out about how to be prepared.

Although the monsoon season begins on Friday and becomes more evident the first week in July, temperatures will remain pretty normal leading up to it for this time of year, Bruce said.

“We’ll be seeing very few clouds the next 10 days, and as we get toward the end of June, those temperatures will be going up,” Bruce added.

A high of 107 was forecast for Tuesday and 108 for Wednesday before the temperature is expected to slightly dip to 105 on Thursday, 103 on Friday and 104 on Saturday.

As always, the National Weather Service said it’s virtually impossible to predict what the monsoon season will bring within a month or even two weeks, or even to predict what kind of monsoon season Valley residents can expect based on how wet or dry the winter was. This year, Valley residents have seen a dryer than normal spring.

So far this year, the Valley has seen .36 of an inch of rain. Comparably, the average rainfall in Acapulco, Mexico is about 60 inches over a period of six months, but very sparse after that in a strong monsoon region, Bruce said. Arizona and New Mexico are on the northern fringes of the Mexican monsoon, usually translating to a much smaller amount of thunderstorms and windstorms.

Last year, it took nearly a month before the monsoon began with scattered storms throughout the Valley.

No matter what it brings this year, one has to be prepared for the monsoon, especially when it comes to your home and vehicle.

“Because of the rapid nature of a monsoon, it’s imperative that homeowners and motorists are prepared regardless of where they are when a storm strikes,” said Brad Oltmans, vice president of insurance for AAA Arizona.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, partnering with the governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the National Weather Service, has established www.PullAsideStayAlive.org to showcase an educational video and to reinforce driver tips. The website also includes a printable tip sheet, which ADOT encourages users to print and post.

“The key message is pull over and come to a stop. Don’t think you can just drive through a dust storm,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “Avoiding driving through a dust storm is the best safety tip. But we know these storms can strike hard and fast, reducing visibility to zero. In those cases, drivers need to pull as far off the roadway as possible and wait for the dust to clear.”

Dust-related crashes occur most years, particularly along the I-10 corridor between Phoenix and Tucson. To advise drivers of approaching storms, ADOT is using a range of strategies including social and traditional media, communication with officers and staff in the field, television and radio advertising, and close coordination with partnering agencies to keep information flowing to motorists.

ADOT also is using social media to engage Arizonans in spreading the word to “Pull Aside, Stay Alive.” In addition to blogs and Facebook posts, ADOT is launching a “Haboob Haiku” challenge on Twitter (use hashtag #HaboobHaiku), asking people to show their creativity in educating the public about the dangers of driving in dust storms.

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