Monsoons in Tucson and Fall in Michigan

I wish I’d been in Tucson all summer and hadn’t had to leave last May. (To that end I wish most people hadn’t been so eager for a ‘return to normalcy’ and The Way Things Were in the US pre-COVID. It didn’t work for everyone; the status-quo in-person college life never worked for me. But who’s listening?)

My favorite season in Tucson is the Monsoon. It started a few weeks after I left and this year it’s been unusually strong, so from Michigan I’ve been tracking the monsoon in Arizona, and the Southwest generally, but mostly in Tucson specifically.

Look who’s figuring out how to make Twitter do things!! (It’s me! Finally, I’m figuring it out, or at least the search lol)

The lightning from those storms!

The way they appear suddenly and from seemingly nothing, huge pillars of water over the otherwise sunny desert landscape.

All the locust and mesquite, the saguaros and other cacti, all the wildflowers and sagebrush, the flocks of desert-birds, everything is tense with anticipation, silently pleading ‘Please give us the rain here, don’t pass us by!’ All the living things seem to recognize the sensations of moisture rising into the sky, the pressure in the air of a building storm overhead pushing into eardrums wherever air finds them and onto flesh of so many textured organs.

These storms often pop up and dissipate without moving more than a block or two at most. It could be pouring in one neighborhood but not even a drop falls in the neighborhood just across the street. But when it rains over you, so much water dumps from the sky all at once that you wouldn’t be able to see even the houses across the street.

But before there’s rain, there’s an incredible rush of lightning, appreciable especially after the sun has finally relented into an evening sky, but no matter the time the thunder is a constant rumble that shakes the concrete slabs of Tucson’s houses, rattles their walls, sets panes of glass and the goods inside vibrating against each other.

The thunder builds in the air if the storm is near. If it is a low sound off in the distance, the rain might never reach you before its waters have propelled themselves back to the earth, obedient finally as liquid to the laws of gravity it had flouted as vapor.

The smell in the air is distinct, chalky with a mildewed menace to it. The bite of salt builds on your lips and clings to your skin almost all at once, a sandpaper grit you notice on your eyelids, inside your elbows, the backs of your knees, as microscopic needle pricks dozens at a time, driven into the sky from the fierce blasts of thunder-bearing winds.

The sight of the clouds themselves is remarkable against an otherwise clear powder-blue sky. Within minutes they form as Pacific damp is propelled on the winds into the sky along the slopes of mountains. I saw more storms over the Catalina Mountains to the north of the city anchored to its peaks than I saw storms drop rain over my casita. I would spend hours nervously watching the storms a few miles off from my roof, chain-smoking as usual, and all-but-praying that I wouldn’t get hit by an errant bolt of lightning.

The result of all the rain that dumps down all at once is flash flooding in the washes, underpasses, even some of the roads. Definitely it’s not the time to be driving around. Never drive through water on the road in the Southwest!!!

Missing the monsoon again has me promising myself I won’t miss the next one. This summer, and last summer, the monsoon has been particularly intense. I’d like to hope that trend might hold out next year, but I have a feeling that like the storms themselves, this intensity is fleeting. The monsoon is changing with the climate, like everything else. Will it get more intense? Will it become inhospitable? Or will the monsoons start to fade year by year, until there’s only a week of storms, a few days, one chance for a storm, then no chance? I’d like to hope it’ll be more not less, but the destabilizing of our planet means there can be no stability, never enough necessary for valid predictions, so I’m left with a feeble hope, merely that I’ll get to experience even just one more monsoon season somewhere in or around Tucson in my lifetime, whatever it’s span.

Meanwhile now in Southeast Michigan the sense of autumn impending is irrepressible, especially in the morning as the sun’s rising. The air has that thin awful quality to it, incapable of holding heat, instead leeching the heat from the ground, from my body, from the bodies around me. I’ll never get over the fact that the days feel different on either side of the summer solstice here in Michigan, how the 21 of April and the 21 of August share nothing in common, how autumn is distinct from spring, how the seasons lack symmetry. There is too much change here, constant change from one day to the next, seasonal progressions and day by day variations, consistent only in the daily change of temperature, of weather, pressure and temperament.

Oh, update: here’s an article on the fall Monarch migration. They get to leave for Mexico and I don’t get to go with them? This is ridiculous.

Get me out of here!!!!!

As a final thought, a thought that’s been bothering me for at least the last two summers here in Michigan, basically a preview of a post maybe I’ll be able to write someday if anyone can ever confirm it: all the sudden we have monsoon-style rains in Michigan. Is this new? Have we always had these periods of pop-up storms and violent downpours that flood surface streets and expressways? I seem to remember a consistent pattern, built up from my first couple decades, of early-evening storms in the summer coming in on passing fronts and supercharged by Lake Michigan, they would race across the state and tended to reach where I grew up between 6-8pm. There would be weeks of these storms, every other day or so, and a week or two without storms. In August, around now, it would be so hot that the rain would be warm by the time it hit your skin, but feeling that rain was the most amazing feeling. There were also overnight storms that rolled in every once in a while. They haunted my childhood after I got a little traumatized over a scene in a ridiculous kids movie from the 90s where The Bad Guy gets off a train during an overnight storm (did they have to make that so sinister???? UGH lol). But the past few summers there have only been a few of either of those storms; most of our storms these past few summers have had a distinct monsoon flavor to them. What gives? Is this a thing that’s happening or have I misremembered the storms of my childhood and teen years? Obviously I’ll be thinking about this for a while before anything makes sense. (The drought being felt by the trees is an early hint at a confirmation, and perhaps even a bit of a signal that Michigan is heading toward looking more like the Sonoran Desert around Tucson than any Michigan we ever knew, except colder, like Utah or Montana, a place for evergreens but otherwise only the hardiest of deciduous trees.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Make a one-time contribution to what I do

Make a monthly donation to what I do

Make an annual donation to what I do

Anything donated helps fund my creative endeavors!


Or enter a custom amount


Thank you SO much!!

Thank you SO much!!

Thank you SO much!!

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly
%d bloggers like this: