The monsoon thunderstorm season is off and thumping.
Dark clouds and dry lightning are rolling in nearly every afternoon in northern Arizona, prompting residents to seek cover and pull out their deck chairs for the show. Officially, the monsoon season started June 15, but things didn’t really take off until the beginning of July.
In Flagstaff, precipitation levels are above average for the year, thanks to several of these storms. While the area usually sees just a third of an inch of rain, already this month, the total is up to 2.23 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
“Everyone in the office believes that monsoon season has begun,” said a Flagstaff meteorologist.
However, Rim Country hasn’t yet got enough rain to reduce the fire danger from “extreme.” The big buildup of monsoon clouds through the weekend and on into Monday mostly produced only a smattering of rain below the Rim.
However, both the Salt and Verde Rivers are now flowing at near-normal levels, reflecting rain on the upper reaches of their watersheds.
Historically, the monsoon started after the dew point averaged 55 degrees or higher three days in a row. Typically, that happens around the start of July when a subtropical high-pressure system sets up around Four Corners.
While the monsoon eventually brings much-needed rain, the early weeks of the season are considered the most dangerous time of year with weather conditions varying wildly from lightning, erratic winds, dust storms, flash floods, excessive heat and even hail, according to the NWS.
All this week, the NWS predicts a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in Rim Country, with highs in the mid 90s.
Here are some safety tips from the NWS:
• If you hear thunder, you are close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning. The safest locations are sturdy buildings and hard-topped vehicles. Wait there until 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
• Plan outdoor activities to take place before mid-afternoon.
• Stay away from trees. The vast majority of people killed or injured in severe thunderstorms are hit by falling trees, flying debris or from downed power lines.
• If you encounter a dust storm, pull off the road, turn off your headlights and taillights, put your vehicle in park and take your foot off the brake.
Dust storms usually last from a few minutes to perhaps an hour at most. Stay put until the dust storm passes