It was a great summer for clouds in Tucson — big, billowing cumulonimbus over the mountains, pregnant with the possibility of rain.
Most days, though, they just built up and didn’t blow our way.
The monsoon was a bust in Tucson. The official gauge at Tucson International Airport caught only 3.74 inches of rain, 61.5 percent of our normal 6.08 inches.
A mere nine of the 86 rain gauges checked by the citizen scientists of Rainlog.org received 6 or more inches. The rest of the valley was dry, as record rain fell north, south, east and west of the state’s population centers.
“I would say it was a good monsoon regionally”, said J.J. Brost, science officer for the National Weather Service in Tucson.
“There was just this blob of slightly drier conditions that extended from Tucson over towards Phoenix.”
It was especially dry in a swath from the center of town out toward the northwest. Some of the rain totals in those areas were less than 2 inches.
It was much drier than last year, said Rainlog coordinator Gary Woodard. But the pattern was similar — the center of town was “as dry as it gets anywhere, including right at my house,” said Woodard, who recently retired from the University of Arizona and is now working with Montgomery & Associates.
It’s little solace to our parched yards, but our watershed was a lot wetter.
Rain gauges in the Santa Catalina Mountains received 11 to 20 inches of rain over the summer. If you went out on many of our muggy, rainless days, you could find water flowing in the creeks and rivers fed by the nearby mountains.
“It was frustrating because Mount Lemmon had a bunch of rain. Storms were forming close to us but didn’t have strong enough wind in the middle or upper portion of the atmosphere to blow those storms toward the city,” Brost said.
Mike Crimmins of the University of Arizona’s Climate Assessment for the Southwest, or CLIMAS, said he kept seeing evidence of rain all summer — spots on his car hood or puddles on his drive home from work. But he never actually saw it rain.
When Crimmins gathered this week with fellow climate researchers Jeremy Weiss and Zack Guido to sum up the summer in a podcast, they chatted mostly about the amazing rainfall elsewhere in the state and the killer, wet storms that passed us by to wreak havoc in New Mexico and Colorado in September.
There wasn’t much to say about Tucson, except that July was pretty decent. Most of the rain that fell on Tucson fell that month.
“It did start out with a fairly robust July and then August, as it did last year, fizzled,” said Guido.
“It wasn’t extremely dry. If you look at Rainlog, even within the city there is quite a bit of variability. By no stretch of the imagination was it a dud.”
It just didn’t rain much, said Guido, where most of the state’s people live.