The fun part was you never really knew when it would start. Sometimes this wind shift came as early as mid-June, sometimes as late as mid-July. Usually it lasted until sometime in September, but sometimes it stopped sooner or lasted longer. The weather people would tell us that the monsoon officially started when our dew point averaged 55 degrees or higher for three consecutive days. (The dew point is the temperature at which condensation forms. It is figured as a combination of temperature and humidity levels.)
One time when I was about 10, I rode my bicycle to a shopping mall about a mile from the house. I was supposed to be home around 4:00 p.m. but somehow lost track of time and started home a little late. I had no sooner started when here I see my dad come driving up in his truck. I figured I was in big trouble if he was coming for me. In reality, he had come to save me from the dust storm headed our way.
Now, I don't know if other places in America get dust storms like we do in Phoenix. The only places I have heard of getting anything similar are Australia and the Middle East. So, if you have never been in one of these storms (like the one pictured, from 2006) you just have no idea. It is the kind of thing that makes dads go out and find their kids, they can be that bad.
My dad told me the storm was coming. I insisted I could out run it on the bike. So, rather than putting the bike in back of the truck and riding with him, I peddled as fast as my 10-year-old-legs could go -- constantly looking over my shoulder at the storm getting closer -- and covered that mile in very short order.
We pulled into the driveway, I lifted the garage door, put in my bike, closed the door and -- wham! -- the storm hit. It went from day to almost night in a single breath. Suddenly, I could not breathe because of the thick dust filling the air, pelting our skin, virtually blinding us. We pushed against the driving wind (it can reach over 50 miles an hour), felt our way through the entry gate and into the house.
It was one of those scary / exhilarating moments that you never forget -- which is how I remember it all these years later.
Every night about 4:30 p.m. it would be the same thing: A huge wall of dust coming in from the east valley, darkening the skies for a while, then moving west. After a few days of this, the dust would be followed by walls of welcomed rain pummeling the dust-covered surfaces, washing everything clean.
Now, the drama and mystery of the start of the monsoon season has been removed forever. No longer relying on uncertain dew point averages, the National Weather Service thinks it will be more helpful to assign an actual date to the start and end to the season: 15 June through 30 September.
So, even though the dust storms have not started yet, even though the moisture-laden winds have not yet crept northward from Mexico, even though dads are not having to drive out to find their sons on bikes, today is the official start of our monsoon season.
I rather preferred it the other way.
You can read more about this change here.