A typical summer day in Phoenix, feels a bit like this:
An unforgiving brutal sun beams down on all that lays under its rays. You may find a few small shady areas along the desert mountains, but for the most part, the bright hot sun covers everything.
The temperature is raising, and therefore so is the ground.
Heat surrounds you from all direction.
“It’s a dry heat” you hear people say. As if that should make it more tolerable.
You look across the evening sky, and notice gray storm clouds heading your way. “The monsoon is here” you think to yourself.
The Monsoon season in Phoenix, officially begins on June 15th and ends in September. This is a time where there is high humidity in the air, which causes some extreme weather conditions to appear.
So much for the dry heat.
My First Monsoon Experience
We walked into a local Mexican restaurant for dinner. The weather was a typical summer day here in Phoenix. Bright. Hot. And dry.
As we plopped down in a window booth and cooled down in the air conditioning, we unknowingly had a front row seat to an epic nature show.
As we sat there looking over the menus, dark gray storm clouds were quickly approaching our direction.
As the sky turned gray, the light from the restaurant also grew dimmer. By the time we received our meals, the sky had completely transformed. It looked as though it was night.
The wind began picking up. Across the street, the leaves from the palm tree flutter with the wind. It began blowing harder and harder and I waiting for the leaves to begin tearing off.
Then we began to hear the rain.
Dropping from the sky and hitting the roof so hard that we heard the rain first, before seeing it. The heavy droplets began to mix with the force of the wind. While we we’re wrapping up our meal, the wind was now blowing the rain sideways. The palm tree was clasping onto the Earth with all it’s might.
It felt surreal, like I was transported to Florida and looking at a hurricane. All that was missing was a reporter with a microphone hanging onto his hat and struggling to maintain composure.
It was at this moment, that we heard a huge crashing thud. We turned our gaze toward the parks, parking lot where the sound had come from. A metal light post had been pushed over from the wind and now laid there like an injured solider.
We ordered another round of drinks. No way were we ready to walk out into that storm.
As we sat there with our frozen margaritas and now covered with goosebumps, the storm slowed down. The rain began to let up and it turned off almost as quickly as it had turned on. The storm was over.
As we went back outside. It felt like an apocalyptic world. The gray skies remained and the once dusty roads had been power-washed cleaned with leaves and twigs scattered about.
The palm tree silently stood there slouching its leaves, heavy with water. It looked exhausted.
Hiking in Monsoon Season
While I was lucky to be inside during this storm, the truth is that there were likely hikers on trails during that time. Hikers can get caught in unexpected monsoon storms at any time during the season.
Therefore, it’s important to be aware and take precautions when hiking during the monsoon season.
Monsoon Storm Consists of a Combination of the Following:
- Storm Clouds
- Heat lighting
- Extreme Rain
- Flash Flooding
- Dust Storms
The extremity of these events differ. Sometimes it can be severe and other times, it could be light.
Monsoon Sunsets are the Best Sunsets
Due to the mix of storm clouds, the sunsets will be gorgeous during this time. Swirls of pink, orange, yellow and purple light will proudly display across the sky. Every night, a unique sunset will be awaiting you; begging for you to capture a picture of it.
For this reason, hikers (especially those into photography) love to go out along the hiking trail to watch the light show.
Sometimes (just as in my story above) the weather can drastically change with no warning. For this reason, here are some general tips in case you find yourself caught in a monsoon:
Hiking Safety in Monsoon Season
- Check weather reports before heading to the trails.
- Carry a backup rain jacket/poncho in pack.
- Plan on wearing dry fit clothing and hiking socks, that are formulated to keep your feet warm. (Wool or synthetic socks)
- While out on the trails, pay attention to the clouds. If it looks like a storm is heading your way or you hear thunder, you may want to start going back.
If Caught Hiking While in Storm
- Find lower ground immediately.
- DO NOT be on the top of the mountain
- If necessary, seek shelter under a SHORT tree that is surrounded by other trees (Lighting tends to strike trees that stand alone).
- Stay away from puddles (water is a conductor for electricity).
- If hiking with other people, spread out. Do NOT huddle together.
- Take off all metal (if lighting).
- Protect eyes and face during dust storm.
Car Safety in Monsoon Season
(okay not hiking related…but good info to know!)
If driving in a Monsoon Storm:
- Pull over to a safer area and turn your lights OFF.
- Keep an extra bottle of water and snacks in your car, in case you’re sitting in delayed or closed off traffic.
- Do not enter flooded areas!
Relax, It Will Pass
The good news, is that these storms typically do not last that long. So if you find yourself caught in one…know that it will pass through.
Where There is Rain…There Are Waterfalls!
While the flash flooding and extreme rain can be scary at the time, nature balances it out with providing lots of waterfalls in the mountains! Okay, no… don’t get all crazy picturing that waterfall scene in Jurassic Park! It won’t be like that.
But there will be small waterfalls. Which, to us here in Phoenix is a magical sight to behold! (I mean, just when it rains here we all have to run outside to see it, imagine how exciting a waterfall is!)
There will be little water falls throughout the beginning of the hike and the washes will be gushing with flowing water that you will have to hike across.
Another good hike for waterfalls is Massacre Grounds trail, in the Superstition Mountains. Although I have only heard about the waterfall, I’ve never been fortunate enough to witness it.
So there you have it! The monsoon season can be a glorious time for hiking, but also comes with putting yourself in a dangerous situation. If you are you prepared and follow the safety tips you should be fine and have nothing to worry about.
Here’s to hoping we have a lot of epic sunsets this season…and not so many extreme storms that close down the roads!
What do you guys think? Have you ever been caught in a storm? Any other safety tips that I may have missed? Have any good suggestions on some waterfall hikes?