Monsoon season is here, but how will it impact Utah?

Weather

Lightning lights up the night sky In Neumarkt, Germany, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Heavy rains and thunderstorms have caused flooded cellars and streets as well as fallen trees and a variety of property damage in Central and Upper Franconia in the night to Monday. (Tobias Hartl/dpa via AP)

(ABC4) – It’s here.

Monsoon season has begun in Utah and is set to develop into the thick of its impactful phase in the coming days and weeks. While some may associate the term with heavy rain, which is not completely untrue, the word “monsoon” actually refers to a changing of wind patterns and intensity, as ABC4 Utah’s Pinpoint
Weather team explains.

The rain is just an effect of Utah’s location when the winds and pressure systems converge after bringing in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and California.

“Basically what you really get out of monsoon season is the location of something called a high-pressure system. And as that high-pressure system kind of sits over the top of the Four Corners where Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico meet, you start to get the shifting of lower-level winds coming in from the southwest,” ABC4 Meteorologist Cesar Cornejo explains. “So all of that moist tropical air sits over the top of us and gets a chance to bubble up under the sun and that’s where we get the afternoon and evening showers.”

Cornejo further describes that the typical signals he and Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy have been observing while making their forecasts — which have been the most accurate in the state for the last 10 years in a row — indicate that monsoon season is starting a bit earlier this year.

Once the season begins in full effect, the afternoon and early evening showers are going to come around like “clockwork,” Cornejo says. That is, as long as the high-pressure systems stay in the Four Corners area. Too far east, and the rain will end up in the El Paso, Texas area. Too far west and the Central Valley in California will enjoy the additional moisture, according to Cornejo.

Of course, with monsoon season arriving in the middle of the summer, it’ll be important for residents to check the forecast before heading out for recreation activities or life in general. Getting caught in a storm at this time of year can be incredibly unpleasant.

“Being able to know, and adjust your plans to the forecast is always the best way to go about it,” Cornejo recommends. “Even though some of these storms may just be a quick thunderstorm that puts down a little bit with erratic winds and some heavy rain, some may be on the severe side we saw some hail fall just a few days ago.”

Monsoon season in Utah is likely best known to our hikers and bikers because our favorite spots for camping and recreation frequently see flash flooding. Brophy says strong thunderstorms over mountainous terrain and slick rock allows for heavy rain to transform into a torrent of water seeking the lowest point. We have already seen Zion National Park flood several times in the last two weeks.

“Capitol Reef National Park also has flooded twice with flood water rushing over the road, and mud and debris flowing through the normally dry Sulfur Creek,” Brophy explains. “The storms can be slow movers with heavy downpours resulting in flash flooding. It’s important to remember it doesn’t have to be raining for a flash flood to occur. The mud and debris flow with a flash flood can be violent, and so monsoon season in Utah means staying on top of changing conditions and having the ability to seek higher ground quickly.”

Hail, as has been seen in viral videos and in the news, can vary in size and potentially cause property damage, especially to car windshields. Not to mention, the solid pellets of frozen rain can be dangerous and painful to humans caught in the storm.

“When it hits you, it hurts. I’ve been out in a storm like that,” says Cornejo. “And it’s no fun. You get welts from them.”

Despite the occasional damage a monsoon can bring, Brophy points out that moisture from these storms could be exactly what Utah needs right now during one of its worst drought years on record.

“The last few years in Utah, we have seen more of a “nonsoon” as opposed to monsoon. Summer rains were sparse, but this year, we’ve been able to pull in that moisture from the Gulf. These heavy rains don’t impact our historic drought too much, but any rain in the desert is welcome. We just prefer it didn’t make a muddy mess, but we will take what we can get.”

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