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IMPACT EARTH: How climate change is impacting our monsoon

IMPACT EARTH: How climate change is impacting our monsoon

How climate change is impacting our monsoon

Each summer, Arizona gets stormy. Winds shift and bring moisture in from the south which helps form thunderstorms in the heat of the day. This is the North American Monsoon.

Much of Arizona typically receives 30 to 50 percent of its annual rainfall during the monsoon months of June, July, August, and September which helps replenish reservoirs and diminish wildfire threats.

But, the monsoon as we know it is changing. As our atmosphere gets hotter with climate change, it’s able to essentially hold more water vapor and that’s changing how our monsoon behaves.

“We don't get as many storms, but when they do come, they're tending to produce higher rainfall amounts, more intense rainfall, and more intense winds,” says Dr. Christopher Castro with the Hydrology and Atmospheric Science department at the University of Arizona.

That’s exactly what we saw play out here in Phoenix last summer. Ninety percent of our monsoon rainfall came in less than two hours on August 20.

“From the water supply perspective, it's bad news for recharge of the groundwater table. If you're drying out the soils and then realizing your precipitation with only a few intense events, more of that precipitation is likely to run off. There’s also a greater danger for wildfires to happen and that totally changes the characteristics of the permeability of the soil. Then, when it rains, that water will immediately wash off very similar to a landslide,” Castro says.

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