Monsoon Gives Rim Country An Electrifying Reputation

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Continual sunny, sweltering days have Rim country residents wondering when the windy, rainy relief of the monsoon will make an appearance.

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As monsoon season approaches, area residents are encouraged to protect themselves and their property. For more information, contact the National Weather Service at (928) 556-9161.

Meteorologist Mike Staudenmaier of the National Weather Service in Flagstaff said the summer monsoon is late this year.

"The start of the monsoon is usually around the fifth of July," Staudenmaier said. "(This year) the monsoon is late and there is no sign of it in the extended forecast."

Staudenmaier said forecasters believe the monsoon may begin in the middle of July, which has only happened a couple times since 1950.

Recipe for monsoon

The monsoon is defined as a seasonal shift in wind, which permits humid air to permeate Arizona.

"During the other times of the year we generally have weather systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean and going towards the east -- a westerly atmospheric flow," Staudenmaier said. "What happens during the monsoon is that the jet stream moves north and that allows high pressure to build over the four-corners region. Around high pressure systems the winds are clockwise so that allows a southeasterly flow to develop over the state. This allows the warmer, more tropical air from the Gulf of California to flow into the state."

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Kevin Morris installs lightning rods to protect homes from direct lightning strikes.

Staudenmaier said the wet winter has delayed the monsoon season.

"To get that high pressure really established, you need the ground to heat up," Staudenmaier said. "The greater-than-average snow cover and a lot of green grass is delaying the heating that needs to take place over the higher terrain."

A late start to the monsoon does not mean it will last longer, Staudenmaier said.

"There is not a lot of correlation with the length of the monsoon, but you can predict that it's more likely to be drier because it is starting later, but it depends where the thunderstorms hit," he said.

Lightning - If you can hear it, fear it

When the monsoon does make its appearance, residents should watch out for lightning.

"During monsoon season Arizona has one of the highest frequencies of lightning in the nation over the higher terrain," Staudenmaier said. "Several people a year get struck by lightning and killed in northern Arizona."

Staudenmaier said lightning is caused by the friction of ice crystals inside a thunderstorm.

The rule of thumb is that if you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning.

"Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the parent thunderstorm. The rule is if you can hear it fear it," he said. "So when you hear thunder, you should seek shelter."

People outdoors during a thunderstorm should avoid tall objects such as trees, Staudenmaier warned.

"If you start to feel the hair raise on the back of your neck, that is a good indicator that electrons are flowing through your body and trying to meet up with electrons flowing from the cloud to the ground," he said.

If you can't get to shelter or a car, Staudenmaier said to crouch, making yourself as low as possible. Crouching also provides minimum contact with the ground in case lightning hits close by and travels through the ground.

Protecting your home

Kevin Morris, owner of Classic Lightning Protection, Inc., said dozens of area homes are struck by lightning every year.

"There are some years where Arizona is second in the nation in the number of lightning strikes," Morris said.

Morris owns one of only three companies in the state licensed to install lightning protection.

"I install two things which work together as a package to protect a structure -- one is the whole-house surge protection and the other are lightning rods."

The surge protection involves shielding devices in the electric panel, which transfer the over-voltages from an indirect lightning strike away from the utility lines and into the ground.

"It protects the all the wiring and appliances -- everything in the home," Morris said. "The lightning rods accept the lightning bolt and sends it to the ground through a lightning cable."

Morris has been installing lightning protection for seven years. He has seen its destructive power.

"There was one last year that had a 2-foot-by-5-foot hole in the roof. It blew drywall and wood out of the walls all the way across the living room of a 5,000- square-foot home," said Morris.

For more information, call Morris at (928) 474-1727 or visit his website at www.classiclightningprotection.com.

For more information on the monsoon and lightning safety, visit the National Weather Service website at www.wrh.noaa.gov/Flagstaff.

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