Sep 29, 2016

The Sonoran Desert Has Seasons

By Kari Diane Pike

Post writing conference activities being what they are, I've had little to no time to write during the past two weeks. Then add the normal daily stuff like hubby getting the blue screen of death and having to purchase a new computer and oh, you know, dinner and laundry. 

So in honor of hubby successfully saving everything from the old computer and in celebration of the retreating monsoon season, here is a description of one summer monsoon I wrote about eons ago. The essay needs some serious edits, but the ANWA Treasurer reports are due. So here ya go.

The Arizona Sonora Desert has three seasons: Snowbird, hot and miserably hot. Snowbird season brings sunshine, golf tournaments, and mobile home parks filled to capacity with silver-haired migratory residents. Hot season creates a “dry” heat, not unlike an oven on baking day, and it sears your skin when you dare venture out of the air-conditioned comfort of home, work, or shopping malls. It parches plant and animal alike, leaving dust and a feeling of lethargy hanging in the air. About the time you think it couldn’t get any worse, the humidity begins to rise and the miserably hot season, otherwise known as the “monsoon” or “whiny season,” rears its cumulonimbus head above the horizon. A proper monsoon offers spectacular lightening displays choreographed with thunderous percussionists, torrential rain, and a phenomenon unique to the Sonoran and Sahara deserts. Desert rats call it the “haboob.”

The moments before dawn are precious during the miserably hot season. Balmy breezes brush by, carrying just a hint of citrus, dust, and sage. The low, gentle coo of mourning doves provides respite from yesterday afternoon’s droning of cicadas. Dawn splashes vibrant hues over the otherwise muted colors of the desert sky, offering the coolest minutes of the day and replenishing the energy needed to endure the oncoming heat. Temperature and humidity climb race the rising sun. 

Throughout the morning, puffy white clouds mushroom and darken along the horizon to the south and east. The air becomes thick and sticky. Cicadas recommence the relentless buzzing that intensifies with the heat. Breezes grow up, and turn into adolescent dust devils. They tour neighborhoods and desert alike, teasing school children by snatching their caps and swirling them across the playground with bits of paper and leaves. By late afternoon, heavy, gray clouds stack up against one another until massive, angry-looking anvil shapes loom over the desert valley. Sunlight filters through cloud and dust, giving a greenish glow to the approaching storm. 

A full-grown wind chases off the dust devils, snaps flags on poles, tears laundry off lines, and tosses abandoned pool toys against fences. Litter and tumble weeds dance along the shoulders of roads and freeways. The faint scent of ozone tickles your nose, teasing it with the smell of much hoped for rain. A feeling of unease, perhaps a leftover defense mechanism from ages past, makes you look to the south. You see it in the distance. Fed by dust and sand and wind, a giant brown wall, two thousand feet high and several miles across, marches north across the desert. Haboob. 

The march is swift. Choking, blinding dirt blocks out the sun, swallowing distant buildings, nearby trees, and finally the house next door. The dust sifts under doors and filters through window crevices. Sparkling blue swimming pools turn into murky, muddy messes. Roof shingles, birds’ nests and an occasional trampoline all fall victim to the haboob. When the wind begins to tire, and the dust settle, the light show begins. Long, arching bolts of lightening split into three, four, and even five different directions. Thunderclaps rattle the windows and children of all ages scurry for shelter. A large drop of rain splatters on the window and leaves a muddy trail as it slides down the dusty pane. Drop after drop follow in quick succession until the whole sky seems to open up and dump bucket after bucket of glorious rain. Five minutes later, the last few rays of the setting sun break through the wrung-out clouds and chases them off stage. 

Children and adults emerge from their climate-controlled shelters to frolic in flooded street gutters and park retention basins. Neighbors greet each other, catching up on friendly gossip and swapping tales of storms past. Sunset streaks of flamingo pink and mango orange fade to lavender, and deepen to jewel-toned indigo. The scent of jasmine, steaks on the grill, and the sound of laughter drift through the neighborhood. Cleanup can wait.

Life is magnificent!


  1. I love your description of things. Too funny. We have three seasons ourselves...spring break, tourist, snowbirds...the weather varies lol.


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