Monsoons make us swoon

27 Jul

Rain clouds over the desert in Big Bend.

July and August are monsoon season in the Southwest states. That means the deserts get rain. In most of the SW desert areas, these rains may be the only precipitation that falls during the entire year. Although the average precipitation varies considerably from year to year, and from one location to the next, tracked and recorded patterns provide us with limited ability to forecast a range of expected rainfall. However, in our current era of rapidly changing climate, nothing is certain. Only change.

Historical cycles of drought and abundance of rain are typical of the northern Chihuahuan desert. A severe drought – less than 3″ of rain in a calendar year – were expected on average once every 7-10 years. Conversely, a year or two with abundant rainfall – more than 12″ – may have occured in between drought years. Yet, let us not be too complacent, as some ranchers where in the 1940’s when cattle was overstocked on desert lands during several years of abundant rain. The next years were the driest in recorded history, in this desert and elsewhere: the Dust Bowl years of the 1950’s. Cattle died or were shipped off for pennies, and people left the desert areas to never return.

Predictions of increased temperatures, prolonged drought periods, and reduced precipitation loom over the American Southwest. And we have experienced some of that, such as the drought of 2011 when the southern Big Bend area received only 1-2″ of rain. The ecosystem was hit hard with many losses of plant and animal life, and recovery has been slow. Most people, on the other hand, continue to live and play in the desert, relying on technology to pump water to their taps. But that may be tenuous. Those people that live removed from the infrastructure rely on the same water that the surrounding desert life does: rainfall. And, like camels and succulents, they catch and store rain in containers (albeit, not live tissue like camels and succulents) for measured and conserved use throughout the year.

So we wait. With eagerness, for those winds that blow the rain clouds in. We rejoice and dance outside in the rain. We celebrate. We measure how much rain falls on our homesteads. When the desert smells like rain, no perfume is sweeter. It is the life blood of all desert dwellers.

The Hopi’s have a word for the monsoon clouds: Lakes in the Sky. And indeed they are; floating lakes of water. And we swoon when they dump their precious cargo on and around us.

Obscured sun in monsoon clouds.

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