What is the monsoon?

Weathering The Storm

Captured June 14, 2019 of a storm that rolled through El Paso by Certified Weather Watcher Miguel Vigil

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – El Paso is rather dry year-round, with only a little more than 9 inches of rain registered year-round.

However, the Borderland city gets most of its rain during the monsoon.

Officially it is called the Southwestern US Monsoon, but it can be also be called “monsoon season” or simply “monsoon.” The National Weather Service officially defines the monsoon as the period between June 15 through September 30. 

According to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, the word “monsoon” is Arabic, which means season.

But the term itself actually means a seasonal shift in the winds. For the desert southwest, we see a large subtropical high-pressure system called the Bermuda High, which spreads out across the southern United States circulating moisture around it and right into our region.

At the same time, the desert southwest begins to heat up, and when the heat mixes with the unstable atmosphere and moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California, thunderstorms ignite.

“Many people think of monsoon as being related to rainfall,” said Jason Laney, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “While increased moisture does lead to additional rainfall, the early monsoon period, which is mainly June into early July, can be quite dry for El Paso.”

Even though we may not see many storms in these first two months, we still see some serious threats.

“First of all, it is our hottest time of the year and heat still ranks as the number one weather-related killer nationwide,” said Laney. “Secondly, when we do get a few storms, they are usually high based and tend to produce lots of ‘dry’ lightning strikes early in the monsoon season, hence wildfires tend to form and can rage out of control, as is the case to our north in New Mexico, west in Arizona, and south in Mexico right now.”

August is our wettest month of the year, drawing in around 2 inches of rain on average. July sees about 1.55 inches of rain on average and June sees about .94 inches of rain on average.

Laney says the outlook for this year’s monsoon is off to a slow start.

“This has a lot to do with the delayed El Nino this past winter,” he said.   “Meanwhile, climate forecast models and the Climate Prediction Center all agree that July will be a bit warmer than normal with near-normal precipitation chances.”

Laney says he expects August into September will round out the monsoon season with near-normal conditions both in the temperature and precipitation. 

“I do, however, have a hunch that precipitation will pick up by September as the ongoing El Nino could keep the east Pacific rather active in terms of tropical activity. This could lead to additional intrusions of deeper tropical moisture at times.”

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