July 12, 2010

Monsoon misery

Last year about this time, people warned me when we started entering "monsoon season." They told me that we would get more rain and it would be 'humid.' I was a little skeptical since I had just come from Lake County, Illinois, which gets its name from the hundreds of lakes and ponds that add a lot of humidity to the air in the summer. Last summer, I would see thunderclouds forming by the mountain range every afternoon, but no rain and not much humidity. Natives told me that the monsoons skipped us, though we did have a record number of consecutive heat advisory warnings. We didn't get so "lucky" this year. I walked out with Jacques at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to 38% humidity and near 90 degree temperatures. I could barely breathe, though that might have been due to a lingering cold, too. Now for those of you who think I am a total wimp to complain about 38% being "high", I went to a Heat Index Calculator to see how humidity affects how we perceive the temperature:

* 90 Deg F with 60% humidity (typical Chicago day) feels like 100 Deg F.
* 95 Deg F with 75% humidity (typical St.Louis/Memphis day) feels like 128 Deg F
* 110 Deg F with 20% humidity (typical monsoon Phoenix weather) feels like 122 Deg F.
(source: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/jkl/?n=heat_index_calculator).

I had to look up the term "monsoon" to see where all this humidity is being created, since we do live in a desert. Turns out, the wind changes course in the summer and comes from the south and south east, bringing humid air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California (The strip of water between the Baja peninsula and Mexico). So this humid air comes traipsing into our area, gets hit with the intense heat eminating from the desert and blasts up to higher altitudes, congregates among the mountains, along with any Phoenix resident with a summer home along the Mogollan rim and forms splendid thunderclouds tens of thousands of feet high. Occasionally, it will actually rain in Phoenix. My cousin, who grew up south of Tuscon, said that in her neck of the woods, it would rain every afternoon. However, they are at a slightly higher elevation. Most of the time, it rains in the mountains, which is still good for Phoenix. There are huge cisterns up in the mountains collecting rainwater and snowmelt for the valley. The water is directed into canals that circle and criss-cross the valley so that we can have green lawns, water fountains, and swimming pools in the desert. Of course, the water is practically undrinkable without filtration. Eric can tell you more about the canal system in one of his posts since he and Kyle went to tour the Salt River Project that manages water needs for Mesa.

In the "olden days", people used swamp coolers to keep their houses cool. Air would blow through a tank of water into the house and the extra humidity would cool the house down as the water vapor evaporated. Swamp coolers become useless during monsoon season, which is why I am glad that I have a real air conditioner. The current practice is for restaurants to have misters on the perimeter of their outdoor seating with some sort of overhang to keep the sun off of their guests. Outdoor malls have misters throughout the walkways pouring out mist to help keep people cool in the summer as they walk around in the daytime*. It uses the same concept as the swamp cooler and works okay in the early summer, before monsoon season.

* This is a theory and probably only happens in the morning. Most people I know, if they can help it, stay inside during the afternoon, including me.

So basically, I am telling you that Phoenix is no place to be in July or August and anyone with a summer home in the mountains or elsewhere in the country or a camper will flee town for higher elevations, which are a minimum of 2 hours away heading generally north. Here are some additional statistics:
> Our pool water was a balmy 94 deg this evening. It felt good compared to the 100+ temperature outside.
> At 10 p.m., it is still 95 deg F. Jacques does not get an evening walk until the sun sets.
> The low tonight is supposed to be 85 deg F.
> Tomorrow we are expected to experience a "cool spell" lasting a day in which the temperature is not expected to reach 110. Woo hoo!

The kids and I have an escape plan, too, which was hatched with my sister-in-law Michelle's help (Knitting in Transit). She is getting married at the end of July and all the family is gathering to celebrate. The kids and I are taking a four-week Tour de Midwest visiting family in Memphis for almost a week, stopping for a few days in the Chicago area to have reunions with family and friends and rest up for the next leg of the journey to the Twin Cities area, where Eric will join us for the wedding and some time with his side of the family before we head back to the Oven state, I mean the Grand Canyon state. By then, we should only have a few weeks of extreme heat before it starts cooling off in September. Thanks, Michelle!

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Glad to help out! See you in a couple of weeks!