As severe weather season ramps up, avid storm chasers will continue to flock to the Great Plains and adjacent regions in the hopes of observing tantalizing storm structure and captivating tornadoes. However, if you’re a photographer looking for a picturesque landscape featuring a stunning lightning bolt in the background, the Southwest United States may be your destination.
The Southwest US Monsoon season begins June 15th, and lasts through September. Much of this geographic regions annual precipitation falls during this time in the form of heavy rains from convective storms. In addition to flooding rains, these storms usually produce strong winds, occasionally dense blowing dust, and the potential for prolific lightning photography (see below).
Two lightning bolts strike during the evening hours in the vicinity of El Paso, TX (Photo Credit: John Fausett).
Like most weather/climate variables, the Southwest US Monsoon can have very active, and inactive seasons. This past year, 2021, was certainly very active for portions of southern Arizona, southwestern and south-central New Mexico, in addition to far west Texas. Several rounds of abundant moisture coupled with atmospheric energy produced very heavy rains and flash flooding. Check out the image below which shows rainfall as a percentage of normal for much of the the monsoon season across portions of the Southwest (focusing on southwest and south-central NM and far west Texas).
The image above shows the estimated rainfall as a percentage of normal for the time period June 15th through August 31st. Notice the greens, blues, and purples suggest above, to well above normal precipitation across much of the area (far west Texas and into southwestern portions of New Mexico). For reference, the map below shows a zoomed out version of the Southwest, with the blue circle on the location of the precipitation image above.
As a result of all this heavy rain, the desert transformed into an oasis. Look at the pictures below of the Franklin Mtns (located in El Paso) and how the greenery flourished with in the desert landscape.
An image of the Franklin Mountains up close and personal. Notice the copious amounts of green vegetation, thanks to heavy monsoonal rains during the 2021 season.
A similar picture of the Franklin mountains, but from afar. The greenish tint to the mountains remains evident, which to this level is quite uncommon (according to the locals).
Whether you’re in the Great Plains with tornadoes and supercells, or the Desert Southwest with heavy rain, dust, and lightning, weather truly is a dangerous, and equally fascinating phenomena.
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©2022 Meteorologist Joe DeLizio